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Getting ready to use control: Advances in the measurement of young children's use of proactive control.

  • Author(s): Doebel, Sabine
  • Barker, Jane E
  • Chevalier, Nicolas
  • Michaelson, Laura E
  • Fisher, Anna V
  • Munakata, Yuko
  • et al.

A key developmental transition in executive function is in the temporal dynamics of its engagement: children shift from reactively calling to mind task-relevant information as needed, to being able to proactively maintain information across time in anticipation of upcoming demands. This transition is important for understanding individual differences and developmental changes in executive function; however, methods targeting its assessment are limited. We tested the possibility that Track-It, a paradigm developed to measure selective sustained attention, also indexes proactive control. In this task children must track a target shape as it moves unpredictably among moving distractors, and identify where it disappears, which may require proactively maintaining information about the target or goal. In two experiments (5-6 year-olds, Ns = 33, 64), children's performance on Track-It predicted proactive control across two established paradigms. These findings suggest Track-It measures proactive control in children. Theoretical possibilities regarding how proactive control and selective sustained attention may be related are also discussed.

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