Paper Session 7: Cognitive Development 1

Date & Time

Jun 5th at 9:00 AM until 10:30 AM



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Chair: Eric Amsel (Weber State University)

Re-description training effect on 3-year-olds cognitive flexibility

The preschool period is characterized by improvements in children's executive control which can be defined as the top-down control that one exerts over thoughts and action to achieve a specific goal or outcome (Chevalier et al., 2012). It has been argued that difficulty to success the standard Dimensional Change Card Sort task (DCCS; Zelazo, 2006) for 3-year-olds children can be explained by the presence of two dimensions coexisting within a single object. 3-year-olds children do not understand the possibility to describe an object in two different ways (e.g. Shape and Color; Kloo & perner, 2003). Based on the re-description theory, the current microgenetic study sought to assess whether there is a training effect of separated card-sorting versions (interlaced dimensions and spatially distinct conditions) on the standard DCCS task. Results showed that Object-wise separation training allowing children to integrate or dissociate interlaced dimensions within a single object seem to be crucial for enhancing attentional flexibility in 3-year-olds.

The role of schema in memory: A cognitive neuroscience perspective

Cognitive and educational psychology have long identified the influential role of prior knowledge on encoding and retrieval of new knowledge. Two forms of such knowledge have traditionally been the focus of cognitive psychology research: conceptual knowledge and schemas. Cognitive neuroscience has primarily investigated the neural substrates of conceptual knowledge and its influence on new learning, with focus on the Anterior Temporal Lobe (ATL) and related lateral and inferior Temporal cortices. More recently schemas have also generated interest in both the animal and human cognitive neuroscience literature. In the talk, data from patients with neurological damage (confabulation and amnesia), and neuroimaging (fMRI and ERPÕs) will be presented. Neuroanatomically, I will suggest that the same principle of representational hubs that bind together isolated neural modules into multi-modal ensembles operate for different mnemonic reconstructions. The medial temporal lobe (MTL) and hippocampus are a hub for episodic memories, the ATL is a hub for conceptual knowledge end the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) is a hub for schemas. Facilitation of encoding of new information by prior schemas can be mediated by vmPFC interaction with the hippocampus and posterior neocortex, but the possibility of hippocampal-independent learning under certain conditions will also be explored.

A theoretically guided approach to laboratory-based EF interventions

Executive function (EF) is foundational for goal-directed problem solving across a wide array of contexts. Not surprisingly, interventions that promote EF are in great demand. Too often, interventions are plagued by an inability to facilitate EF across the array of contexts children face. Thus, there is a need for a theoretical understanding of the conditions that do and do not impact EF across contexts. We have used a neural network model of children’s performance in a canonical probe of EF - the Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS) – as a test case to acquire this very understanding. This task asks children to sort a series of two-dimensional objects (e.g., red star) by one dimension (e.g., shape) before switching to the other dimension (e.g., color). Three-year-olds are notoriously bad at this. We tested and confirmed a novel prediction of the model that prior experience over the post-switch dimension in a different task context facilitates switching from shape to color in the DCCS. Interestingly, this is not the case for switching from color to shape. Model simulations of this asymmetry provide a mechanistic understanding for why only some conditions facilitate EF. Additional experiments probe precisely what dimensional experience children carry across contexts.

Feature binding in visual working memory is impaired during early childhood and can be improved through adding spatial structure

Theories of visual working memory (VWM) capacity have focused primarily on adults' performance, debating whether representations should be conceptualized as discrete “slots” or continuous “resources”. Although these perspectives have generated an impressive body of research, they do not address two important characteristics of VWM: how representations are used in service of behavior, and how VWM develops. As an alternative, the cognitive dynamics account of VWM development has shown that developmental improvements in memory can be re-conceptualized as increases in the real-time stability of VWM processes. Real-time stability of VWM refers to a collection of related consequences when implemented in a computational model, including increases in both capacity and resolution over development. Here we tested two further predictions of this theory. First, we predicted that changing how memory was probed in the change detection task --testing changes in feature binding, not just changes to new features --would reveal specific limitations in early childhood due to decreased real-time stability. Second, this limitation could be overcome by providing spatial structure to stabilize memory. Two experiments with children aged 3 to 6 years supported these predictions, providing further evidence for the cognitive dynamics explanation of VWM capacity limits and development through increasing real-time stability.

The influence of perspective, inhibition, and verbal ability on young children's episodic foresight

Thinking about the future and being able to plan for the future is a critical skill that children use in daily life. Episodic foresight (EpF) is defined as the ability to project oneself into the future to pre-experience an event (Atance, 2008). Several factors can have an influence on children’s EpF development in early childhood including: the perspective they take, their inhibitory control, and verbal ability. The aims of the current study were twofold: to examine the effect of taking a first or third person perspective on young children’s EpF performance and to examine the role of verbal ability and inhibition in children’s EpF performance, as neither has been systematically assessed. Preliminary results revealed that 5-year-olds outperformed 3-year-olds on EpF, but first or third perspective had no impact on children’s EpF. Inhibitory control was an independent predictor of the non-verbal EpF composite (choices children made) above and beyond age and verbal ability and expressive vocabulary was an independent predictor of children’s verbal EpF composite scores (verbal justifications) above and beyond age and inhibitory control. These results are consistent with past literature showing rapid development of EpF in the preschool years and reveal some interesting differences between non-verbal and verbal aspects of EpF tasks and the underlying abilities that support them.