Chapter

The Neurobiology of Childhood

Volume 16 of the series Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences pp 149-166

Date:

The Emergence of Cognitive Control Abilities in Childhood

  • Nina S. HsuAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Center for Advanced Study of LanguageProgram in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science (NACS), University of MarylandCenter for Advanced Study of Language, University of Maryland Email author 
  • , Susanne M. JaeggiAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Center for Advanced Study of LanguageProgram in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science (NACS), University of Maryland

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Abstract

Cognitive control, otherwise known as executive function, refers to our ability to flexibly adjust or regulate habitual actions or behaviors. As a cluster of separable components, it depends heavily on the prefrontal cortex, one of the last brain regions to reach adult maturity. Cognitive control processes are thought to be among the key factors for scholastic success, and thus, underdeveloped cognitive control abilities might contribute to an achievement gap. In this chapter, we first discuss the prolonged maturation of the prefrontal cortex that leads to delayed emergence of cognitive control abilities in children. We briefly describe some of the functional effects of prolonged maturation of the prefrontal cortex. We then discuss how experience and environmental factors such as education and socioeconomic status may affect the development of cognitive control abilities, before turning to cognitive training interventions as a promising avenue for reducing this cognitive “gap” in both healthy children and those with developmental disabilities. Taken together, our hope is that by understanding the interaction of brain development, environmental factors, and the promise of cognitive interventions in children, this knowledge can help to both guide educational achievement and inform educational policy.

Keywords

Executive function Socioeconomic status Hypofrontality Cognitive intervention Plasticity