30 Aug Executive Functioning and Neuropsychology
How are Executive Functioning and Neuropsychology Related?
by Dimitra Robokos, Ed.M., M.Phil., Ph.D.
Developmental neuropsychology uses executive functioning abilities to denote a number of different areas of daily functioning often seen for children in school and the home environment.
These daily functioning may include:
- Planning & decision making: Organizing one’s choices and being effective about carrying out the completion of a task.
- Working memory: Ability to adopt, maintain, & shift the cognitive set in an organized strategic way.
- Monitor performance: Track the plan for the work that needs to be completed, correct oneself, respond to feedback.
- Overriding habits/inhibition: Ability to choose a more complex and effortful solution to be correct and know when to let go of a strategy that is not fruitful. The ability to resist or inhibit impulses to respond to salient aspects of the task that needs to be done.
- Awareness: Knowing and understanding task relevant information & when to apply mental flexibility to get through a task’s completion.
- Feedback/error utilization: Ability to benefit from feedback to infer rules for solving Problems.
- Mental/cognitive flexibility: Ability to shift between 2 concepts (from number to letter; from verbal to practical solutions; from adding to ordering numbers; from ordering objects by size to ordering by color).
👉Executive Functioning and Neuropsychology👈
How to Improve the Executive Functioning Weakness in Teenagers or Young Adults
When a neuropsychological and educational evaluation/assessment reveals that a child, teenager, or young adult indeed has executive functioning weaknesses there are ways to address skill sets to improve overall functioning.
- Learning specialists, tutors, and executive functioning coaches work with students to address areas of difficulty.
- Executive functions gradually develop and change across the lifespan of an individual and can be improved at any time over the course of a person’s life.
Relationship between the Executive Functions and the Brain structure
Historically, the executive functions have been seen as regulated by the prefrontal regions of the frontal lobes, but it is still a matter of ongoing debate if that really is the case.
Even though articles on prefrontal lobe lesions commonly refer to disturbances of executive functions and vice versa, a review found indications for the sensitivity but not for the specificity of executive function measures to frontal lobe functioning.
This means that both frontal and non-frontal brain regions are necessary for intact executive functions. Probably the frontal lobes need to participate in basically all of the executive functions, but they are not the only brain structure involved.
There are many disorders including but not limited to ADHD, dementia, depression, schizophrenia, autism, and traumatic injuries to the brain can cause executive functioning differences. Know how the ADHD brain is different from the Normal Brain?
Executive Functioning Growth Based on Age
7 to 12-months old: Inhibitory control and working memory are among the earliest executive functions to appear, with initial signs observed in infants.
According to PubMed, Inhibitory control is a central component of EF and generally focuses on the ability to actively inhibit or delay a dominant response to achieve a goal. Inhibitory abilities have been examined multiple ways in the laboratory, usually under conditions of conflict, delay, or other challenges
- 3 to 5 years: Then in the preschool years, children display a spurt in performance on tasks of inhibition and working memory. Also, during this time, cognitive flexibility, goal-directed behavior, and planning begin to develop.
Preschool children do not have fully mature executive functions and continue to make errors related to these emerging abilities – often not due to the absence of the abilities, but rather because they lack the awareness to know when and how to use particular strategies in particular contexts.
- Preadolescent children continue to exhibit certain growth spurts in executive functions, suggesting that this development does not necessarily occur in a linear manner, along with the preliminary maturing of particular functions as well.
- 8 to 10 years: cognitive flexibility in particular begins to increase. However, similar to patterns in childhood development, executive functioning in preadolescents is limited because they do not reliably apply these executive functions across multiple contexts as a result of ongoing development of inhibitory control.
- During preadolescence, children display major increases in verbal working memory; goal-directed behavior (with a potential spurt around 12 years of age); response inhibition and selective attention; and strategic planning and organizational skills.
- Functions such as attentional control, with a spurt at age 15, along with working memory, continue developing at this stage.
The major change that occurs in the brain in young adulthood is the constant myelination of neurons in the prefrontal cortex.
- At age 20–29, executive functioning skills are at their peak, which allows people of this age to participate in some of the most challenging mental tasks.
These skills begin to decline in later adulthood. There are a number of neuropsychological theoretical models that define, describe, and elaborate on executive functioning skills and abilities across the lifespan.
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