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Executive functions include a group of cognitive processes that contribute to the regulation of purposeful reasoning and behaviour. They thus play a major role in an extremely wide range of our activities. Core components, which depend on one another to some extent, are inhibition, updating the content of working memory during the course of a task and cognitive flexibility in shifting between mental sets or reallocating attention to different tasks. The current construct of executive functioning is still largely based on empirical findings in adults. However, a growing body of data on executive function in typical development, early brain injury and a number of neurodevelopmental conditions (eg, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder) provide insights into maturational factors as well as the role of experience. Assessment remains challenging and in this context Twomey and colleagues propose to use touch screen technology to evaluate early cognitive functioning with instruments that do not rely on verbal language.1 This has potentially high relevance for very young children with limited language development, like the participants in this study. It may also prove relevant to disabled children or adults whose language impairment would interfere with such testing. The applications that Twomey et al studied focused on selective attention, working memory, object permanence and learning, that is, skills that are pertinent to executive functioning and therefore to cognitive and social functioning.
Twomey et al’s approach is made complex by findings suggesting that experience with the touch screen media itself influences young children’s executive functioning abilities.2 Moreover, training of non-executive skills associated with such experience may also bias the results when measuring executive function in research or clinical …
Funding None declared.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.