Neuro behavioural precursors of executive function in early development

Delgado Reyes, Lourdes (2019) Neuro behavioural precursors of executive function in early development. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Executive Function (EF) refers to an interrelated set of neurocognitive systems that underlie behavioral control and cognitive flexibility. EF has pervasive influences on cognition and later development. Previous studies have highlighted that there is a great deal of EF development that goes on from the preschool period through adolescence. In recent years, there has been a growing interest in exploring how executive functions develop in the first three years of life. The present thesis aims to contribute to this literature by exploring how early attentional control, in the form of attentional orienting and executive attention, and working memory interact and co-develop to support forms of complex functioning with an eye toward understanding how EF develops at two levels: brain and behavior. Importantly, we used tasks that rely on looking measures so this line of research can be scaled down to see if/how these skills are related to the emergence of EF from infancy to early childhood. In study 1, we found evidence that attentional control is related to executive control in children aged 24-72 months. In study 2, we replicated these findings, showing that attentional control is related to executive control in toddlers and young children. Critically, our results provide evidence that measures of basic visual dynamics relate to longitudinal changes in cognitive development and executive control. Consistent with previous research, we found task-relevant brain activity among WM and attention tasks in canonical WM and attentional networks. Importantly, there was overlap in the spatial localization of these activation patterns which is consistent with the idea that WM and attention share neural correlates early in development.
Moreover, these activation patterns were predictive of later executive control and may serve as biomarkers of emerging cognitive control. Our results set the stage for future work to measure looking dynamics in infancy to predict longer-term executive control outcomes. This work furthers our understanding of how changes in brain function lead to specific developmental cascades from 30- to 42-months

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Depositing User: Katherine Whittaker
Date Deposited: 13 Feb 2020 15:32
Last Modified: 13 Feb 2020 15:32

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