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How Executive Function Develops from Infancy into Adolescence

This video (link below) from the Harvard Center on the Developing Child explains how executive function develops from infancy into adolescence, and even adulthood.

Experts in the field, including Reflection Sciences’ Co-founder, Dr. Phil Zelazo, talk about Executive Function skills, including working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive or mental flexibility. These skills allow for focusing, thinking flexibly, inhibiting impulsive responses, avoiding distractions, and keeping rules and information in mind to guide later behaviors.

They suggest to think of about it this way: imagine an Air Traffic Control Center at a busy airport. This system will need to bear in mind the room left in the air and on the runways, while also managing a number of planes, some needing to land and others needing to take off. Executive Function regulates the flow of information and the focus on tasks, creates mental priorities, avoids “collisions,” and keeps the system flexible and on time.

Dr. Deborah A. Phillips, Professor of Psychology and Associated Faculty in the Public Policy Institute at Georgetown University, explains, “Take a situation where a child is having to take turns. The child has to have inhibitory control. [They] have to be able to stop whatever he or she is doing and let the other child take a turn. But when it’s [their] turn again, they have to remember what it is [they’re] supposed to be doing. That pulls on working memory. If the children who were taking a turn after [them] do something unpredictable, [they] have to be able to adjust what [they’re] going to do next. That requires mental flexibility.”

This skill set develops rapidly in early childhood, and contributes both academic and life success.

Watch the full, five-minute video here!

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