Tuesday, May 17, 2022

What Are Executive Functions Of The Brain

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Signs Of Struggle With Flexible Thinking

Executive Function: Your Brain’s Control Center

Kids who struggle with flexible thinking might have trouble at home and at school. The situations are different. But the challenge is the same: not yet being able to see things from different angles, or not yet being able to use different strategies to solve problems.

Here are some behaviors you might see at home and at school:

  • Not accepting other peoples ideas

  • Arguing the same point over and over

  • Getting frustrated when even small things go wrong

  • Repeating the same mistakes

  • Getting anxious when plans change

  • Struggling to take on new, more complicated tasks

  • Having trouble switching from one activity to another

  • Getting upset when others dont follow rules

Relations Between Working Memory And Inhibitory Control

They generally need one another and co-occur

One prototypical instance of when EFs are needed is the class of situations where you are to act counter to your initial tendency on the basis of information held in mind. WM and inhibitory control support one another and rarely, if ever, is one needed but not the other.

Working memory supports inhibitory control

You must hold your goal in mind to know what is relevant or appropriate and what to inhibit. By concentrating especially hard on the information you are holding in mind, you increase the likelihood that that information will guide your behavior, and you decrease the likelihood of an inhibitory error .

Inhibitory control supports working memory

Why would persons with poorer EFs obey the plus- and minus-sign rules when instructed on only one task but ignore them when performing exactly the same task after initially being instructed on a second task they are told to ignore? Presumably it is because they failed to clear the irrelevant task from their mental workspace , and so it was cluttering up their limited-capacity WM. In neither condition do they fail to remember the plus- and minus-sign rules it is simply that in the more-complete instruction condition they fail to act according to those rules.

Disentangling working memory and inhibitory control

Is successful inhibitory control but a result of good working memory?

What Derails Our Ability To Use These Core Capabilities

Chaotic, stressful, and/or threatening situations can derail anyone, yet individuals who experience a pile-up of adversity are often even less able to deploy all of the skills they have to cope with challenging circumstances. Early in life, the experience of severe, frequent stress directs the focus of brain development toward building the capacity for rapid response to threat and away from planning and impulse control. In adulthood, significant and continuous adversity can overload the ability to use existing capacities that are needed the most to overcome challenges.

  • Serious early adversity and trauma can lead to higher levels of stress, higher risk of stress-related health difficulties and mood disorders, greater difficulty modulating and accurately appraising emotion, and compromised executive function abilities.
  • Chaotic, threatening, or unpredictable environments that seem beyond our control can lead to poor self-regulatory behaviors and impulse control as well as a low sense of self-efficacythe belief that one can be an agent in improving ones lifewhich is an essential component of executing planful, goal-oriented behaviors.
  • Highly rewarding stimuli such as food or drugs can hijack the brains attention system and cue more automatic responses.
  • Poverty can overload self-regulation, as a result of a pile-up of stresses associated with trying to survive with inadequate resources.

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What Is Executive Function

Executive function is a term that describes a wide range of cognitive behaviors and processes. It is broad enough of a term that some people simply describe it as, what the frontal lobes do. When asked what exactly the frontal lobes do do, some revert to the circular definition of executive functions. However, executive functions are distinct from but related to what the frontal lobes do. The frontal lobes are involved in motor functions , eye movement , memory , and language . In addition, some executive functions incorporate areas of the brain outside the frontal lobes the parietal lobes or basal ganglia, for example. Like many cognitive domains, executive functions are part of a distributed network of brain structures and regions.

Executive functions have been compared to the conductor of an orchestra who, in order to make sense of the disparate instruments, sounds, and parts, must coordinate the members and lead the efforts of all the components of the orchestra. Executive functions also have been compared to chief executive officers of companies. These comparisons demonstrate that executive functions are arguably the most complex and highest of all cognitive functions. However, just like most other cognitive functions, executive functions are comprised of relatively simple processes it is just the unique combination of these more basic processes that makes executive functions so powerful.


Conflict Of Interest Statement

A Life A Bit More Complicated: Living with Surviving ...

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

The reviewer, Maja Roch, and handling Editor declared their shared affiliation, and the handling Editor states that the process nevertheless met the standards of a fair and objective review.

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Give Executive Functioning Time To Develop

Finally, you just have to give your little ones some time. As I mentioned earlier, the part of the brain responsible for executive functions doesnt completely mature until the mid-twenties.

A child with ADHD usually is delayed by about 3 years in their level of executive functioning. I have to remind myself this as my 6-year-old has similar outbursts to my 3-year-old and remember he is doing his best.

As a parent just keep facilitating opportunities to learn, being patient and nurturing during meltdowns, setting boundaries when you need to, and playing lots of games together.

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Everyday Challenges For Young Adults With Executive Functioning Issues

  • Issues with executive functioning skills may continue into young adulthood.

  • Everyday tasks require skills like organization, planning and flexible thinking.

  • Your young adult child with executive functioning issues may need extra support from you.

Its exciting to see your child move into young adulthood. But ongoing executive functioning issues may mean shell need extra support from you to take on new responsibilities. Here are some everyday challenges your child with executive functioning issues might encounterand ways you can help.

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What Strategies Can Help Strengthen Executive Function

Strategies for improving executive function include: breaking a larger task into smaller chunks externalizing information using to-do lists, notepads, or phone reminders buddying up with a peer to foster accountability blocking access to distractions and using rewards to motivate periods of consistent effort.

Helping Students Develop Executive Function Skills

How your brain’s executive function works — and how to improve it | Sabine Doebel

Simple classroom strategies can assist students with deficits in executive function skills like time management and active listening.

Executive function is an umbrella term in neuroscience to describe the neurological processes involving mental control and self-regulation. Executive functions control and regulate cognitive and social behaviors like controlling impulses, paying attention, remembering information, planning and organizing time and materials, and responding appropriately to social situations and stressful situations.

Experts believe executive function is regulated by the frontal lobe of the brainthe prefrontal cortex. Because humans are born with brains that are not fully developed, children are not born with these skills, but they have the potential to develop them.

Some students do not develop executive functions to the same degree as their peers. For these students with deficits, additional support in the classroom may improve their development of executive function.

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Canary In The Coal Mine: Executive Functions As An Early Warning System

EFs and prefrontal cortex are the first to suffer, and suffer disproportionately, if something is not right in your life. They suffer first, and most, if you are stressed , sad , lonely , sleep deprived , or not physically fit . Any of these can cause you to appear to have a disorder of EFs, such as ADHD, when you do not. You can see the deleterious effects of stress, sadness, loneliness, and lack of physical health or fitness at the physiological and neuroanatomical level in prefrontal cortex and at the behavioral level in worse EFs .

If we want schoolchildren, workers, or business executives to have better attention and concentration, be better able to reason and problem solve, we cannot ignore stresses in their lives. Each schoolchild and each employee will do better if that individuals passionate interests can be engaged, energizing the person. They will perform better and show better EFs if they feel they are in a supportive community they can count on. They will perform better and show better EFs if their bodies are strong and healthy. A school or corporation that ignores students or employees emotional, social, or physical needs is likely to find that those unmet needs will work against achieving performance goals.

Beyond The Prefrontal Cortex

A seminal paper by Alexander et al proposed that a crucial organising principle of the brain is corticostriatal circuitry, intimately linking regions of the frontal cortex to striatal structures, via the thalamus and globus pallidus. This model suggests a functional, as well as anatomical, connectivity between frontal cortex and striatum. Divac et al showed that lesions to the caudate nucleus in animals resulted in deficits that resemble those following prefrontal ablation. Evidence that striatal structures are also important in human executive functions comes from neuropsychological studies of neurological disorders. Patients with multiple systems atrophy, progressive supranuclear palsy and Huntington’s disease show significant deficits in executive function, but by far the most widely studied basal ganglia disorder is Parkinson’s disease. Numerous neuropsychological studies have shown that Parkinson’s disease is characterised by executive impairments, which are evident early in the course of the disorder when pathology is confined to basal ganglia regions, and are seen in patients who are unmedicated. Executive function deficits, therefore, appear to be a genuine concomitant of basal ganglia damage. This has led to the suggestion that executive function depends not on the prefrontal cortex in isolation, but on the intact functioning of corticostriatal circuitry mediated by dopaminergic neurotransmission.

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What Is Executive Dysfunction

The importance of executive functions is shown by the difficulties caused when they don’t work properly. Since the executive functions are involved in even the most routine activities, frontal lobe injuries can lead to deficits in cognitive skills, personality and social behaviour.

The most common effects of executive dysfunction are summarised below:

Difficulties with initiating, organising and carrying out activities

  • Loss of ‘get up and go’.
  • Problems with thinking ahead and carrying out the sequence of steps needed to complete a task.

This can often be mistaken for ‘laziness’ or a lack of motivation and energy.

Rigidity in thoughts and actions

  • Difficulty in evaluating the result of actions and reduced ability to change behaviour or switch between tasks if needed.

Poor problem solving

  • Finding it hard to anticipate consequences.


  • Acting too quickly and impulsively without fully thinking through the consequences. For example, spending more money than can be afforded.

Mood disturbances

  • Difficulty in controlling emotions which may lead to outbursts of emotion such as anger or crying.
  • Rapid mood changes may occur. For example, switching from happiness to sadness for no apparent reason.

Difficulties in social situations

  • Reduced ability to engage in social interactions.
  • Finding it hard to initiate, participate in, or pay attention to conversations.
  • Poor judgement in social situations, which may lead to saying or doing inappropriate things.

Strategies That Help Improve Executive Functioning Skills

Where are executive functions located in the brain ...

When we practice using our executive functions, it helps them to develop and get stronger over time. Executive functioning is essential for social and emotional intelligence.

As a parent, you can encourage your child to use these skills every day in order to promote strong executive functioning skills.

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My Child Struggles To Plan And Remember Tasks How Can I Help Her Improve

Many children who struggle to keep track of tasks and responsibilities find the simple act of writing them downand thus externalizing themto be hugely helpful. Working with the teacher if necessary, parents can help their child establish a consistent routine for writing down tasks, planning the steps for completion, and rewarding themselves when successful.

Putting Schema To Use: How To Give Directions

All this brain science has a very useful application for parents. When your child struggles with following directions, its likely because he cant figure out how each direction is connected to each other or to the outcome youre looking for.

Take, for example, the daily chaos of getting ready for school. You can shout out directions like “Put your shoes on!” and “Dont forget your lunch!” every day for a month, but your child isnt internalizing what to do to get ready and every morning is a struggle.

Solve this by taking a photo of your child when she is ready: shoes and jacket on, lunchbox in hand, backpack over both shoulders. Post this near the door, and simply remind your child to match the photo to get ready. The photo acts as the schema, and your child is now able to figure out what actions are required to get ready by looking. Shes figuring out how the mysterious puzzle pieces of “shoes!” and “backpack!” fit together in the category of getting ready.

The beauty of this approach is that it doesnt just help your child get ready faster. It also helps him begin to internalize schema and break things down into steps, all of which help boost working memory not to mention confidence and competence. Give it a try, and check back for more tips on helping a child who struggles with executive functioning or contact us to learn more about The Brain Balance Program and executive function disorders.

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Representative Psychological Tasks Used To Assess Cognitive Flexibility

A family of tasks that taps cognitive flexibility includes design fluency , verbal fluency, and category fluency. You might be asked, for example, how many uses you can think of for a table or how many words you can think of that begin with the letter F, or you might be asked to alternate between the names of animals and the names of foods . First the most common answers come to mind, such as you can eat or write on a table, but then more flexibly minded or creative people can come up with other uses such as dancing on a table, getting under it to stay dry, standing it on its side and using it as shield, chopping it up for firewood, or using it as a percussion instrument.

Cognitive flexibility is often investigated using any of a wide array of task-switching and set-shifting tasks. The oldest of these is probably the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task , one of the classic tests of prefrontal cortex function. Each card in this test can be sorted by color, shape, or number. The task for the participant is to deduce the correct sorting criterion on the basis of feedback and to flexibly switch sorting rules whenever the experimenter gives feedback that the sorting criterion has changed.

What Are The Core Executive Function Skills

Adele Diamond on Executive Functions and the Brain

So we know what parts of the brain control executive functions, but what are they specifically? Broadly speaking, executive function refers to the cognitive or mental abilities that people need to actively pursue goals. In other words, its about how we behave toward our future goals and what mental abilities we need to accomplish them.

The term is very closely related to self-regulation executive functions are things you do to yourself, in order to change your behavior. By employing your executive functions effectively, youre hoping to change your future for the better.

Executive function is judged by the strength of these seven skills:

1. Self-awareness: Simply put, this is self-directed attention.

2. Inhibition: Also known as self-restraint.

3. Non-Verbal Working Memory: The ability to hold things in your mind. Essentially, visual imagery how well you can picture things mentally.

4. Verbal Working Memory: Self-speech, or internal speech. Most people think of this as their inner monologue.

5. Emotional Self-Regulation: The ability to take the previous four executive functions and use them to manipulate your own emotional state. This means learning to use words, images, and your own self-awareness to process and alter how we feel about things.

6. Self-motivation: How well you can motivate yourself to complete a task when there is no immediate external consequence.

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The Modifiability And Training Of Wm And Efs

A number of studies focused on training-induced cognitive and neural plasticity have provided evidence that cognitive abilities and brain activity are potentially modifiable . Consistent with this view, many studies have investigated the effectiveness of cognitive training interventions to improve WM, as well as to help overcome cognitive deficits or learning difficulties . Growing empirical evidence indicates that WM training interventions can lead to real and lasting gains not only in typically developing pre-schoolers , in school-aged children and adolescents up to adulthood , but also in children with cognitive deficits or learning difficulties . This is true particularly for studies investigating the benefits of WM training programs that involve adaptive tasks . The meta-analytic review undertaken by Melby-Lervâg and Hulme including studies with clinical and typically developing samples of children and adultsindicates that WM training programs produce significant and immediate improvements in measures of verbal WM, with larger gains occurring in studies with younger children relative to older children, as well as moderately sized immediate gains on measures of visuospatial WM. These authors conclude that, even though memory training programs appear to produce short-term specific training effects, there is no clear evidence that such benefits are durable and generalizable to other skills.

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