Language and Executive Functioning: Children’s Benefit from Induced Verbal Strategies in Different Tasks

Simone T. Fatzer, Claudia M. Roebers


The interplay of language and cognition in children’s development has been subject to research for a long time.
The present study followed up on recently reported deleterious effects of articulatory suppression on children’s
executive functioning (Fatzer & Roebers, 2012), aiming to provide more empirical evidence on the differential
influence of language on executive functioning. In the present study, verbal strategies were induced in three
executive functioning tasks. The tasks were linked to the three central executive functioning dimensions of
updating (Complex Span task), shifting (Cognitive Flexibility task) and inhibition (Flanker task). It was expected
that the effects of the verbal strategy instruction would counter the results of articulatory suppression and thus be
strong in the Complex Span task, weak but present in the Cognitive Flexibility task and small or nonexistent in
the Flanker task. N = 117 children participated in the study, with n = 39 four-year-olds, n = 38 six-year-olds, and
n = 40 nine-year-olds. As expected, results revealed a benefit from induced verbal strategies in the Complex
Span and the Cognitive Flexibility task, but not in the Flanker task. The positive effect of strategy instruction
declined with increasing age, pointing to more frequent spontaneous and self-initiated use of verbal strategies
over the course of development. The effect of strategy instruction in the Cognitive Flexibility task was
unexpectedly strong in the light of the only small detrimental effect of articulatory suppression in the preceding
study. Implications for language’s involvement in the different executive functioning dimensions and for practice
are discussed.

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Journal of Educational and Developmental Psychology   ISSN 1927-0526 (Print)   ISSN 1927-0534 (Online)

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