Developmental Science

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Volume 21 Issue 2 (March 2018), Pages

From prioritizing objects to prioritizing cues: a developmental shift for cognitive control

Abstract

Emerging cognitive control supports increasingly adaptive behaviors and predicts life success, while low cognitive control is a major risk factor during childhood. It is therefore essential to understand how it develops. The present study provides evidence for an age‐related shift in the type of information that children prioritize in their environment, from objects that can be directly acted upon to cues signaling how to act. Specifically, gaze patterns recorded while 3‐ to 12‐year‐olds and adults engaged in a cognitive control task showed that whereas younger children fixated on targets that they needed to respond to before gazing at task cues signaling how to respond, older children and adults showed the opposite pattern (which yielded better performance). This shift in information prioritization has important conceptual implications, suggesting that a major force behind cognitive control development may be non‐executive in nature, as well as opening new directions for interventions.

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