Executive functions refer to the set of processes that allow us to control our thought and action in order to engage in motivated, goal-directed behaviour. These skills govern our ability to adapt to new situations, behave appropriately, and plan for the future. As such, they are critical to success in everyday life. Executive functions continue to develop well into adolescence, yet relatively little is known about how they change beyond the preschool years. I began to address this in my doctoral work, exploring the development of executive functions in school-aged children. I focused on three main processes: shifting, inhibition and working memory. To find out more about this research you can download a copy of my thesis here.

My current research continues to explore the development of executive functions in childhood and adolescence, particularly the ability to overcome interference from conflicting information. I am also interested in how executive functions interact with other cognitive domains during development and how they influence academic achievement.

Current Projects

SUM: Skills Underlying Maths

Executive function skills are known to be important for successful maths performance. This project explores the differential role of executive function skills in multiple components of mathematical competency, and how these relationships change with age. More information can be found on the project website.

This project is a collaboration with Camilla Gilmore (Loughborough University). Part of this work has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (2011-2015).

PRISM: Preterm Infants Skills in Mathematics

Mathematics and executive functions are known to be particular areas of weakness for children born preterm. This project explores executive deficits in relation to key processes that contribute to mathematics skills. Our goal is to identify the key components of new intervention programmes for very preterm children. More information can be found on the project website.

This project is a collaboration with Samantha Johnson (University of Leicester), Camilla Gilmore (Loughborough University), Victoria Simms (Ulster University) and Neil Marlow (University College London) and is funded by Action Medical Research.

Overcoming Distractions

A lot of my research is concerned with how children learn to overcome different types of distractions. Some of the questions I am interested in are:

  • What is the relationship between response conflict and response inhibition?
  • Does the ability to overcome distractions develop at the same rate and in the same way across different types of distraction and in different sensory domains?
  • What role does working memory play in the ability to overcome different types of distraction?

SwIFT: Measuring cognitive control across age groups

It is often difficult to compare cognitive control in different age groups because different tasks are used. In this project, we are developing a new task that can be used with 2-year-olds right through to adults. We have used this task to understand the factors that influence shifting ability throughout childhood.

This project is a collaboration with Dan Carroll at the University of Sheffield.