Multidiscipline Psychological Center “Territoriya Schast'ya”, Moscow, Russia
Background. Voluntary control of goal-directed behavior and mental activity in preschool children plays a key role in knowledge acquisition and future academic achievement. Studies of voluntary control have mainly concerned 6-8-year- old children; much less is known about the ability to exercise voluntary control at early ages. Due to the high prognostic value of the level of development of voluntary control and heterogeneous development of their individual components, it seems actually useful to study age-related changes of these components in children from 3-4 to 4-5 years old.
Objective. To compare age-related changes in executive functions (EF) in children age 3-4 years (mean age: 3.5±0.2 yrs; n = 49; 31 boys) and 4-5 years (mean age: 4.5±0.3 yrs; n = 70; 35 boys).
Design. To assess the different components of EF we used: 1) a qualitative group and individual testing procedure based on the principles of Luria’s theory of the dynamic localization and organization of higher mental functions; and 2) a computerized testing procedure which included the Bourdon-Wiersma cancellation test, the “Hearts and Flowers” conflict test (the Dots task), and the Corsi block-tapping test.
Results. The results showed that different components of voluntary control developed at different rates (heterochronically): there were significant progressive changes from 3-4 to 4-5 years for working memory, assimilation of instructions, switching between separate actions, selective concentration on a target or task, and the distribution of attention. Some other components of EF did not show significant positive dynamics during this period.
Conclusion. The results indicate the importance of applying the activity theory approach to the development of cognitive processes in preschool age.
Keywords: executive functions (EF)/ working memory/ voluntary control/ cognitive flexibility/ preschool age/ neuropsychology/ activity theory