Commenced in January 2007
Frequency: Monthly
Edition: International
Paper Count: 8

Executive Functions Related Abstracts

8 Poor Cognitive Flexibility as Suggested Basis for Learning Difficulties among Children with Moderate-INTO-Severe Asthma: Evidence from WCSTPerformance

Authors: Haitham Taha


The cognitive flexibility of 27 asthmatic children with learning difficulties was tested by using the Wisconsin card sorting test (WCST) and compared to the performances of 30 non-asthmatic children who have persistence learning difficulties also. The results revealed that the asthmatic group had poor performance through all the WCST psychometric parameters and especially the preservative errors one. The results were discussed in light of the postulation that poor executive functions and specifically poor cognitive flexibility are in the basis of the learning difficulties of asthmatic children with learning difficulties. Neurophysiologic framework was suggested for explaining the etiology of poor executive functions and cognitive flexibility among children with moderate into severe asthma.

Keywords: Asthma, Learning Disabilities, Cognitive Flexibility, Executive Functions, WCST

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7 In Search for the 'Bilingual Advantage' in Immersion Education

Authors: M. E. Joret, F. Germeys, P. Van de Craen


Background: Previous studies have shown that ‘full’ bilingualism seems to enhance the executive functions in children, young adults and elderly people. Executive functions refer to a complex cognitive system responsible for self-controlled and planned behavior and seem to predict academic achievement. The present study aimed at investigating whether similar effects could be found in children learning their second language at school in immersion education programs. Methods: In this study, 44 children involved in immersion education for 4 to 5 years were compared to 48 children in traditional schools. All children were between 9 and 11 years old. To assess executive functions, the Simon task was used, a neuropsychological measure assessing executive functions with reaction times and accuracy on congruent and incongruent trials. To control for background measures, all children underwent the Raven’s coloured progressive matrices, to measure non-verbal intelligence and the Echelle de Vocabulaire en Images Peabody (EVIP), assessing verbal intelligence. In addition, a questionnaire was given to the parents to control for other confounding variables, such as socio-economic status (SES), home language, developmental disorders, etc. Results: There were no differences between groups concerning non-verbal intelligence and verbal intelligence. Furthermore, the immersion learners showed overall faster reaction times on both congruent and incongruent trials compared to the traditional learners, but only after 5 years of training, not before. Conclusion: These results show that the cognitive benefits found in ‘full’ bilinguals also appear in children involved in immersion education, but only after a sufficient exposure to the second language. Our results suggest that the amount of second language training needs to be sufficient before these cognitive effects may emerge.

Keywords: bilingualism, Immersion education, Executive Functions, Simon task

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6 A Case Report on Cognitive-Communication Intervention in Traumatic Brain Injury

Authors: Nikitha Francis, Anjana Hoode, Vinitha George, Jayashree S. Bhat


The interaction between cognition and language, referred as cognitive-communication, is very intricate, involving several mental processes such as perception, memory, attention, lexical retrieval, decision making, motor planning, self-monitoring and knowledge. Cognitive-communication disorders are difficulties in communicative competencies that result from underlying cognitive impairments of attention, memory, organization, information processing, problem solving, and executive functions. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is an acquired, non - progressive condition, resulting in distinct deficits of cognitive communication abilities such as naming, word-finding, self-monitoring, auditory recognition, attention, perception and memory. Cognitive-communication intervention in TBI is individualized, in order to enhance the person’s ability to process and interpret information for better functioning in their family and community life. The present case report illustrates the cognitive-communicative behaviors and the intervention outcomes of an adult with TBI, who was brought to the Department of Audiology and Speech Language Pathology, with cognitive and communicative disturbances, consequent to road traffic accident. On a detailed assessment, she showed naming deficits along with perseverations and had severe difficulty in recalling the details of the accident, her house address, places she had visited earlier, names of people known to her, as well as the activities she did each day, leading to severe breakdowns in her communicative abilities. She had difficulty in initiating, maintaining and following a conversation. She also lacked orientation to time and place. On administration of the Manipal Manual of Cognitive Linguistic Abilities (MMCLA), she exhibited poor performance on tasks related to visual and auditory perception, short term memory, working memory and executive functions. She attended 20 sessions of cognitive-communication intervention which followed a domain-general, adaptive training paradigm, with tasks relevant to everyday cognitive-communication skills. Compensatory strategies such as maintaining a dairy with reminders of her daily routine, names of people, date, time and place was also recommended. MMCLA was re-administered and her performance in the tasks showed significant improvements. Occurrence of perseverations and word retrieval difficulties reduced. She developed interests to initiate her day-to-day activities at home independently, as well as involve herself in conversations with her family members. Though she lacked awareness about her deficits, she actively involved herself in all the therapy activities. Rehabilitation of moderate to severe head injury patients can be done effectively through a holistic cognitive retraining with a focus on different cognitive-linguistic domains. Selection of goals and activities should have relevance to the functional needs of each individual with TBI, as highlighted in the present case report.

Keywords: Memory, traumatic brain injury, Executive Functions, cognitive-communication

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5 Trainability of Executive Functions during Preschool Age Analysis of Inhibition of 5-Year-Old Children

Authors: Christian Andrä, Pauline Hähner, Sebastian Ludyga


Introduction: In the recent past, discussions on the importance of physical activity for child development have contributed to a growing interest in executive functions, which refer to cognitive processes. By controlling, modulating and coordinating sub-processes, they make it possible to achieve superior goals. Major components include working memory, inhibition and cognitive flexibility. While executive functions can be trained easily in school children, there are still research deficits regarding the trainability during preschool age. Methodology: This quasi-experimental study with pre- and post-design analyzes 23 children [age: 5.0 (mean value) ± 0.7 (standard deviation)] from four different sports groups. The intervention group was made up of 13 children (IG: 4.9 ± 0.6), while the control group consisted of ten children (CG: 5.1 ± 0.9). Between pre-test and post-test, children from the intervention group participated special games that train executive functions (i.e., changing rules of the game, introduction of new stimuli in familiar games) for ten units of their weekly sports program. The sports program of the control group was not modified. A computer-based version of the Eriksen Flanker Task was employed in order to analyze the participants’ inhibition ability. In two rounds, the participants had to respond 50 times and as fast as possible to a certain target (direction of sight of a fish; the target was always placed in a central position between five fish). Congruent (all fish have the same direction of sight) and incongruent (central fish faces opposite direction) stimuli were used. Relevant parameters were response time and accuracy. The main objective was to investigate whether children from the intervention group show more improvement in the two parameters than the children from the control group. Major findings: The intervention group revealed significant improvements in congruent response time (pre: 1.34 s, post: 1.12 s, p<.01), while the control group did not show any statistically relevant difference (pre: 1.31 s, post: 1.24 s). Likewise, the comparison of incongruent response times indicates a comparable result (IG: pre: 1.44 s, post: 1.25 s, p<.05 vs. CG: pre: 1.38 s, post: 1.38 s). In terms of accuracy for congruent stimuli, the intervention group showed significant improvements (pre: 90.1 %, post: 95.9 %, p<.01). In contrast, no significant improvement was found for the control group (pre: 88.8 %, post: 92.9 %). Vice versa, the intervention group did not display any significant results for incongruent stimuli (pre: 74.9 %, post: 83.5 %), while the control group revealed a significant difference (pre: 68.9 %, post: 80.3 %, p<.01). The analysis of three out of four criteria demonstrates that children who took part in a special sports program improved more than children who did not. The contrary results for the last criterion could be caused by the control group’s low results from the pre-test. Conclusion: The findings illustrate that inhibition can be trained as early as in preschool age. The combination of familiar games with increased requirements for attention and control processes appears to be particularly suitable.

Keywords: Executive Functions, inhibition, preschool children, flanker task

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4 Improving Working Memory in School Children through Chess Training

Authors: Veena Easvaradoss, Ebenezer Joseph, Sumathi Chandrasekaran, Sweta Jain, Aparna Anna Mathai, Senta Christy


Working memory refers to a cognitive processing space where information is received, managed, transformed, and briefly stored. It is an operational process of transforming information for the execution of cognitive tasks in different and new ways. Many class room activities require children to remember information and mentally manipulate it. While the impact of chess training on intelligence and academic performance has been unequivocally established, its impact on working memory needs to be studied. This study, funded by the Cognitive Science Research Initiative, Department of Science & Technology, Government of India, analyzed the effect of one-year chess training on the working memory of children. A pretest–posttest with control group design was used, with 52 children in the experimental group and 50 children in the control group. The sample was selected from children studying in school (grades 3 to 9), which included both the genders. The experimental group underwent weekly chess training for one year, while the control group was involved in extracurricular activities. Working memory was measured by two subtests of WISC-IV INDIA. The Digit Span Subtest involves recalling a list of numbers of increasing length presented orally in forward and in reverse order, and the Letter–Number Sequencing Subtest involves rearranging jumbled alphabets and numbers presented orally following a given rule. Both tasks require the child to receive and briefly store information, manipulate it, and present it in a changed format. The Children were trained using Winning Moves curriculum, audio- visual learning method, hands-on- chess training and recording the games using score sheets, analyze their mistakes, thereby increasing their Meta-Analytical abilities. They were also trained in Opening theory, Checkmating techniques, End-game theory and Tactical principles. Pre equivalence of means was established. Analysis revealed that the experimental group had significant gains in working memory compared to the control group. The present study clearly establishes a link between chess training and working memory. The transfer of chess training to the improvement of working memory could be attributed to the fact that while playing chess, children evaluate positions, visualize new positions in their mind, analyze the pros and cons of each move, and choose moves based on the information stored in their mind. If working-memory’s capacity could be expanded or made to function more efficiently, it could result in the improvement of executive functions as well as the scholastic performance of the child.

Keywords: Working memory, Cognitive development, School Children, Executive Functions, chess training

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3 Executive Functions Directly Associated with Severity of Perceived Pain above and beyond Depression in the Context of Medical Rehabilitation

Authors: O. Elkana, O Heyman, S. Hamdan, M. Franko, J. Vatine


Objective: To investigate whether a direct link exists between perceived pain (PP) and executive functions (EF), above and beyond the influence of depression symptoms, in the context of medical rehabilitation. Design: Cross-sectional study. Setting: Rehabilitation Hospital. Participants: 125 medical records of hospitalized patients were screened for matching to our inclusion criteria. Only 60 patients were found fit and were asked to participate. 19 decline to participate on personal basis. The 41 neurologically intact patients (mean age 46, SD 14.96) that participated in this study were in their sub-acute stage of recovery, with fluent Hebrew, with intact upper limb (to neutralize influence on psychomotor performances) and without an organic brain damage. Main Outcome Measures: EF were assessed using the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST) and the Stop-Signal Test (SST). PP was measured using 3 well-known pain questionnaires: Pain Disability Index (PDI), The Short-Form McGill Questionnaire (SF-MPQ) and the Pain Catastrophizing Scale (PCS). Perceived pain index (PPI) was calculated by the mean score composite from the 3 pain questionnaires. Depression symptoms were assessed using the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9). Results: The results indicate that irrespective of the presence of depression symptoms, PP is directly correlated with response inhibition (SST partial correlation: r=0.5; p=0.001) and mental flexibility (WSCT partial correlation: r=-0.37; p=0.021), suggesting decreased performance in EF as PP severity increases. High correlations were found between the 3 pain measurements: SF-MPQ with PDI (r=0.62, p<0.001), SF-MPQ with PCS (r=0.58, p<0.001) and PDI with PCS (r=0.38, p=0.016) and each questionnaire alone was also significantly associated with EF; thus, no specific questionnaires ‘pulled’ the results obtained by the general index (PPI). Conclusion: Examining the direct association between PP and EF, beyond the contribution of depression symptoms, provides further clinical evidence suggesting that EF and PP share underlying mediating neuronal mechanisms. Clinically, the importance of assessing patients' EF abilities as well as PP severity during rehabilitation is underscored.

Keywords: Neuropsychology, Depression, Response Inhibition, Executive Functions, pain perception, mental-flexibility, perceived pain

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2 Neuropsychological Disabilities in Executive Functions and Visuospatial Skills of Juvenile Offenders in a Half-Open Program in Santiago De Chile

Authors: Gabriel Sepulveda Navarro


Traditional interventions for young offenders are necessary but not sufficient to tackle the multiple causes of juvenile crime. For instance, interventions offered to young offenders often are verbally mediated and dialogue based, requiring important metacognitive abilities as well as abstract thinking, assuming average performance in a wide variety of skills. It seems necessary to assess a broader set of abilities and functions in order to increase the efficiency of interventions while addressing offending. In order to clarify these assumptions, Stroop Test, as well as Rey-Osterrieth Complex Figure Test were applied to juvenile offenders tried and sentenced for violent crimes in Santiago de Chile. A random sample was drawn from La Cisterna Half-Open Program, consisting of 50 young males between 18 and 24 years old, residing in different districts of Santiago de Chile. The analysis of results suggests a disproportionately elevated incidence of impairments in executive functions and visuospatial skills. As an outcome, over 40% of the sample shows a significant low performance in both assessments, exceeding four times the same prevalence rates among young people in the general population. While executive functions entail working memory (being able to keep information and use it in some way), cognitive flexibility (to think about something in more than one way) and inhibitory control (being able to self-control, ignore distractions and delay immediate gratification), visuospatial skills permit to orientate and organize a planned conduct. All of these abilities are fundamental to the skill of avoiding violent behaviour and abiding by social rules. Understanding the relevance of neurodevelopmental impairments in the onset of violent and criminal behaviour, as well as recidivism, eventually may guide the deployment of a more comprehensive assessment and treatment for juvenile offenders.

Keywords: Juvenile Offenders, Executive Functions, half-open program, neurodisabilities, visuospatial skills

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1 Distraction from Pain: An fMRI Study on the Role of Age-Related Changes in Executive Functions

Authors: Angelika Dierolf, Katharina M. Rischer, Ana M. Gonzalez-Roldan, Pedro Montoya, Fernand Anton, Marian van der Meulen


Even though age has been associated with increased and prolonged episodes of pain, little is known about potential age-related changes in the ˈtop-downˈ modulation of pain, such as cognitive distraction from pain. The analgesic effects of distraction result from competition for attentional resources in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), a region that is also involved in executive functions. Given that the PFC shows pronounced age-related atrophy, distraction may be less effective in reducing pain in older compared to younger adults. The aim of this study was to investigate the influence of aging on task-related analgesia and the underpinning neural mechanisms, with a focus on the role of executive functions in distraction from pain. In a first session, 64 participants (32 young adults: 26.69 ± 4.14 years; 32 older adults: 68.28 ± 7.00 years) completed a battery of neuropsychological tests. In a second session, participants underwent a pain distraction paradigm, while fMRI images were acquired. In this paradigm, participants completed a low (0-back) and a high (2-back) load condition of a working memory task while receiving either warm or painful thermal stimuli to their lower arm. To control for age-related differences in sensitivity to pain and perceived task difficulty, stimulus intensity, and task speed were individually calibrated. Results indicate that both age groups showed significantly reduced activity in a network of regions involved in pain processing when completing the high load distraction task; however, young adults showed a larger neural distraction effect in different parts of the insula and the thalamus. Moreover, better executive functions, in particular inhibitory control abilities, were associated with a larger behavioral and neural distraction effect. These findings clearly demonstrate that top-down control of pain is affected in older age, and could explain the higher vulnerability for older adults to develop chronic pain. Moreover, our findings suggest that the assessment of executive functions may be a useful tool for predicting the efficacy of cognitive pain modulation strategies in older adults.

Keywords: fmri, Executive Functions, PFC, cognitive pain modulation

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