Infant attention span can predict later executive function
Infant attention skills are significantly related to preschool executive function at age three, according to a new study published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine.
Maternal report and laboratory measures of infant attention were gathered on 114 infants who were five months old; the performance on four different executive function tasks was measured when these same children were three years old.
Executive function refers to the cognitive processes that help the regulation of thoughts, emotions and behaviours, and aid with deliberately persisting with daily tasks. Preschoolers show executive function when they remember and follow instructions, such as putting their hat in their bag, or remembering their water bottle. Children also use executive function to internalise social rules such as “we don’t hit when we are angry”, or to conduct simple errands such as “take this box to the door, and then put away the books before you come to the table”.
Researchers explained “Attention is believed to support the development and deployment of executive function. Although preschool executive function attentional abilities are concurrently linked, much less is known about the longitudinal association between infant attention and preschool executive function.”
The report, titled Infant Attention and Age 3 Executive Function, suggests that infant attention may serve as an early market of later executive function, further suggesting that understanding the foundational factors associated with executive function is necessary for both theoretical and practical purposes.
The researchers said that the results “may have practical implications for the early identification of children who may be particularly vulnerable to later executive control difficulties” as “infant attention emerges early in the first year of life and is relatively easy to measure, whereas executive function does not begin to emerge until late into the first year and is notoriously challenging to measure in very young children”.
They explain that children at three years of age are experiencing a “pivotal development period”, which represents the beginning of a “major shift in self-regulatory abilities as children become increasingly more proficient at appropriately co-ordinating their own goals and actions with situational demands”.
While these abilities rely on neural mechanisms, the researchers explain, evidence exists that they are also shaped by experience, with executive function training improving performance on completing tasks.
“Much remains unknown about the degree to which executive function abilities are malleable over the lifespan. Given the brain-based changes occurring during this time, however, the preschool period may represent a time during which EF abilities are particularly susceptible to environmental influences,” the report concludes.
To read the full report, click here.