A meta-analysis of the Dimensional Change Card Sort: Implications for developmental theories and the measurement of executive function in children

Sabine Doebel, Philip David Zelazo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


The Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS) is a widely used measure of executive function in children. In the standard version, children are shown cards depicting objects that vary on two dimensions (e.g., colored shapes such as red rabbits and blue boats), and are told to sort them first by one set of rules (e.g., shape) and then by another (e.g., color). Most 3-year-olds persist in sorting by the pre-switch rules, whereas 5-year-olds switch flexibly. We conducted a meta-analysis of standard and experimental versions of the task (N = 69 reports, 426 conditions) to examine the influence of diverse task variations on performance. Age, how the test stimuli were labeled for the child, emphasis on conflict in the verbal introduction of the post-switch rules, and the number of pre-switch trials each independently predicted switching on the standard DCCS, whereas pre-switch feedback, practice, and task modality did not. Increasing the relative salience of the post-switch dimension was associated with higher rates of switching, and, conversely, decreasing post-switch salience was associated with lower rates of switching, and under both kinds of manipulation performance continued to be associated with age. Spatially separating the dimensional values was associated with higher rates of switching, and it was confirmed that the degree of spatial separation matters, with children benefiting most when the dimensional values are fully spatially segregated.Switch rates tended to be higher in versions on which children were prompted to label the stimuli compared to when the experimenter provided labels, and lower when reversal instructions were used in conjunction with the standard task stimuli. Theoretical and practical implications for the study and measurement of executive function in early childhood are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)241-268
Number of pages28
JournalDevelopmental Review
StatePublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health under Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award 5T32HD007151 from the NICHD to the first author. The authors thank Stephanie Carlson, Melissa Koenig, Yuko Munakata, Sashank Varma, and anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript; Brenton McMenamin for assistance with the analysis; David Wilson for the meta-regression macros used to conduct the analysis; and Jerome Hoover and Zach Machacek for research assistance; and all of the researchers who graciously responded to our requests and provided data for our analysis.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Inc.


  • Cognitive control
  • Cognitive flexibility
  • DCCS
  • Executive function
  • Meta-analysis
  • Set-shifting


Dive into the research topics of 'A meta-analysis of the Dimensional Change Card Sort: Implications for developmental theories and the measurement of executive function in children'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this