Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Dimensions of Attention and Executive Functioning in 5-To 12-Years-Old Children: Neuropsychological Assessment with the Nepsy Battery

Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Dimensions of Attention and Executive Functioning in 5-To 12-Years-Old Children: Neuropsychological Assessment with the Nepsy Battery

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

EF represents an umbrella-type concept for the complex set of cognitive processes that underlies the coordination of goal-directed responses to novel or complex situations. Developmental studies using standard neuropsychological tasks have shown that EF has a protracted developmental course, beginning in early childhood and continuing into adolescence. Our study aims to investigate the developmental sequence of attention and executive functions using normative data from a subsample (N = 485) of 5-to-12-years-old children evaluated during the standardization process of "NEPSY: A developmental neuropsychological assessment" (Korkman, Kirk, & Kemp, 1998) on the Romanian population. Eight measures (Tower, Auditory Attention, Auditory Response Set, Visual Attention, Verbal Fluency, Design Fluency, Statue, Knock and Tap) were selected for the analysis, based on a rigorous task analysis process. The results suggest a differential maturational timetable, with basic inhibitory responses and visual search skills maturing early on, followed by response planning, focused attention, and finally, by fluency measures. The measures clustered into two distinct factors; based on their commonalities, we named them 1) Task-set selection (Tower, Verbal and Design Fluency, Auditory Attention and Response Set) and 2) Inhibition (Knock and Tap, Statue, Auditory Attention and Response Set). Three possible explanatory frameworks are provided for this factorial structure: a linguistic account, a latent variable approach and a maturational perspective.

KEYWORDS: executive functions, attention, NEPSY, exploratory factor analysis.

INTRODUCTION

Welsh, Friedman and Spieker (2005) consider executive functioning (EF) research a "young, active and evolving area of scientific investigation that has not yet settled on a definition of executive function." As Hughes and Graham (2002) point out, we are dealing with an umbrella-type concept for the complex set of cognitive processes that underlie flexible, goal-directed responses to novel or difficult situations. In our research we will prefer to use the term executive functioning (rather than executive function/s), not because it is more neutral and does not require an explicit option between the unitary and the multifaceted perspective upon EF, but because it reveals its process-oriented nature (Lehto, Juujärvi, Kooistra, & Pulkkinen, 2003), this representing, in our opinion, the best way to approach the controversial construct of EF. We consider, along with Welsh et al. (2005), that ecological problem-solving requires a range of higher-order cognitive processes that are inextricably linked, this being the very essence of EF: "it is precisely the coordination of multiple skills that makes executive function an unique cognitive domain".

The context that generated the construct of EF is that of traditional neuropsychological research. As a consequence of frontal cortical damage, a whole constellation of cognitive skills appeared to be compromised; however, problems associated with frontal damage were "supramodal", cutting across classical cognitive, sensory, and motor distinctions (Lezak, 1995). Several case studies of individuals who had suffered focal frontal damage portray them as easily distracted by irrelevant stimuli, unable to flexibly switch mental sets, failing to initiate appropriate activity, lacking purposeful behavior based on anticipation, planning and monitoring (Shallice, 1982; Luria, 1966; Stuss & Benson, 1984; Eslinger, 1996; Espy & Kaufman, 2002). It was documented that damage to the frontal lobes did not impair attention, memory or language, per se, but rather "the ability to marshall all of these cognitive skills, as well as others, in the pursuit of a future goal" (Welsh et al., 2005).

General developmental trends in EF

Developmental studies using standard neuropsychological tasks have shown that EF has a protracted developmental course, beginning in early childhood and continuing into adolescence. …

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