Executive Functions and Their Differential Contribution to Sustained Attention in 5- to 8-Year-Old Children

Sarah Loher, Claudia M. Roebers


Everyday routine in general and school settings in particular make high demands on children’s abilities to sustain
their focus of attention over longer time periods. School tasks thus require the child to accomplish the task on an
appropriate level of performance while maintaining the focus of attention even under repetitious or distracting
conditions. However, sustained attention (SA) may be a more heterogeneous construct than commonly assumed
as it requires the individual not only to sustain attentional capacities but also to store and maintain the task rule
(working memory), to inhibit inappropriate responses (inhibition), and to switch according to requirements
(switching). It might thus involve processes counted among executive functions (EF). In the present study,
performance in EF tasks (covering the core components inhibition, switching, and working memory) and in a SA
task was assessed in 118 children, aged between 5;0 and 8;11 years. Similar age-dependent performance
trajectories were found in EF components and SA, indicating ongoing performance improvements between 5
until at least 8 years of age in SA and in EF. Interrelations between single EF components and SA showed to be
small to moderate. Finally, different patterns of SA performance predictions were found in age-homogeneous
subgroups with inhibition being crucial for SA performance in the youngest and switching in the oldest age
group. Taken as a whole, even though similarities in assumed developmental trajectories and substantial
interrelations point to common underlying processes in EF and SA, age-dependent patterns of explained variance
indicate clear discriminability.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5539/jedp.v3n1p51


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

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