Cognitive control across adolescence: Dynamic adjustments and mind-wandering

J Exp Psychol Gen. 2020 Jun;149(6):1017-1031. doi: 10.1037/xge0000698. Epub 2019 Oct 10.


Models of cognitive development suggest that cognitive control, a complex construct that ensures goal-directedness even in the face of distractions, is still maturing across adolescence. In the present study, we investigated how the ability to dynamically adjust cognitive control develops in this period of life, as indexed by the magnitude of the congruency sequence effect (CSE) in conflict tasks, and how this ability might relate to lapses of attention (mind-wandering [MW]). To these ends, participants from four age groups (12-13, 14-15, 18-20 and 25-27 years old) completed confound-minimized variants of the flanker and Simon tasks, along with a Go/No-Go task with thought probes to assess their frequency of mind-wandering. The CSE was present in both tasks, but was not affected by age in either of them. In addition, the size of the CSE in the flanker, but not in the Simon task was negatively associated with the frequency of MW with awareness. Trait MW and the probability of reporting MW during the task was found to increase with age in accordance with cognitive resource views of MW. Our findings suggest that at the behavioral level there are no substantial developmental changes through the adolescent period in control adjustment ability as measured by the CSE. Response inhibition performance in the Go/No-Go task, however, improved significantly with age. The implications of the present results for the conflict monitoring account of the CSE and extant theories of MW are discussed. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development / physiology*
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Child
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Young Adult