A brain-based account of the development of rule use in childhood

Silvia A. Bunge, Philip David Zelazo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

238 Scopus citations


The ability to follow explicit rules improves dramatically during the course of childhood, but relatively little is known about the changes in brain structure and function that underlie this behavioral improvement. Drawing from neuroscientific studies in human adults and other animals, as well as from an emerging literature in developmental cognitive neuroscience, we propose a brain-based account of the development of rule use in childhood. This account focuses on four types of rules represented in different parts of the prefrontal cortex: simple rules for reversing stimulus-reward associations, pairs of conditional stimulus-response rules (both univalent and bivalent), and higher-order stimulus-response rules for selecting among task sets. It is hypothesized that the pattern of developmental changes in rule use reflects the different rates of development of specific regions within the prefrontal cortex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)118-121
Number of pages4
JournalCurrent Directions in Psychological Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognitive control
  • Complexity
  • Executive function
  • Neuroimaging
  • Task set


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