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Jill Bean's picture


NPR article on the importance of self-regulation and how "old-fashioned play" helps develop self-regulation:


What is executive function? 

Executive funtion is a term used "to describe a loosely defined collection of brain processes which are responsible for planning, cognitive flexibility, abstract thinking, rule acquisition, initiating appropriate actions and inhibiting inappropriate actions, and selecting relevant sensory information." (Wikipedia)

Executive function has been the focus on increaed attention in recent years. 



Notes on effortful control: Kevin MacDonald

two types of cognitive processing

implicit -

  • "automatic, effortless, relatively fast, and involves parallel processing of large amounts of information"
  • "evolutionary ancient"
  • TASS
  • "adaptive response to recurrent environmental regularities over time." (1014)
  • can include emotional reflexes


explicit -

  • "conscious, controllable, effortful, relatively slow, and involves serial processing of relatively small amounts of information"   
  • can include "hypothetical representations of the possible consequences of actions" 
  • "is associated with the experience of agency or will"
  • centered in the prefrontal cortex
  • executive function, working memory
  • "attempts to match behavior to intentions"
  • "especially important when previous connections between inputs, thoughts, and actions are not well established, as in confronting novel problems"
  • "permits goal-directed override of primitive and inflexible reactions to environmental stimuli"
  • "called into play when confronting non routine tasks that require flexible responses"
  • "for solving novel problems under conditions of uncertainty"

effortful control involved controlling "affectively charges responses"  --> emotions in play!

self regulation research - generally broken into two broad areas

1. cognitive --> executive funtion

2.  socioaffective -->effortful control  --> evaluation , cost/benefit analysis

both factors have unique contribution ot academic performance, even when controlled for IQ. 

ADHD, mostly associated wiht deficits in EF, cognitive implusivity,

separate prefrontal areas for working memory, effortful control, and executive function

both effortful control and executive function activate working memory and dorsolateral PFC

working memory  and PFC are required to make descisions involving long term goals/rewards rather then attending to only immediate rewards

use of working memory and PFC for effortful control disrupts executive function performance

to put it plainly, people trying to control their emotional repsonse, lose their cognitive self-control

effortful control not only disrupts, but also depletes  "resource limited process"  (for example, people control their emotions and then later lack self control on tasks)

three are linked, all affect each other

  1. socioaffective processing loads working memory
  2. increased working memory requirements result in less ability for executive function
  3. executive function tasks completes then result in less ability to control emotional response

what is the common resource used by all three tasks --> brain glucose!!!


effortful control increases with age, girls easier than boys


my resulting questions:

  • reward related behavior?? 
  • time elapsed for glucose replenishment?
  • way to help glucose replenishment?



Cortisol Reactivity - Blair, Granger, Razza


cortisol levels in relationship to executive function, self-regular, letter knowledge, receptive vocabulalry, emotion knowledge, or false belief understanding

stress - correlated to activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal  (HPA)axis  --> adaptive response of upregulatio of cortisol

"chronically elevated levels of cortisol are known to be associate with problems of physical and mental health" (555)

"chronis activation of the HPA axis has been shown to affect adversely the development of brain structures and neural systems" (555)  --> control of stress response and executive function and self-regulation



Relating Effortful Control, Executive Function, and False Belief Understanding to Emerging Math and Literacy Ability in Kindergarten :  Blair, Razze


Cognitive and emotional aspects of self-regulation in preschoolers

Liebermann, Giesbrecht, Muller


self-regulation  - "the single most important predictor of resilience in at-risk children"

  1. social-emotional
  2. cogntivie

executive function - shifting, using Working memory, and inhibition (effortful control)

Theory of Mind - between 3-5 -->false belief development

functional link between ToM and executive function

emotional regulation: "the extrinsic and intrinsic processes responsible for monitoring, evaluating, and modifying emotional reactions, especially their intensive and temporal features"

ER tested with unwanted gift

language and regulation development linked in previous studies



Executive Function: The Search for an Integrated Account







effortfulcontrol.pdf157.15 KB
inhibitorycontrol.pdf194.46 KB
theoryofmindandselfcontrol.pdf168.51 KB
Self-regulation in Kindergarten.pdf338.39 KB