Early development of executive function: A problem-solving framework

Philip D Zelazo, Alice Carter, J. Steven Reznick, Douglas Frye

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

478 Scopus citations


Executive function (EF) accounts have now been offered for several disorders with childhood onset (e.g., attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, early-treated phenylketonuria), and EF has been linked to the development of numerous abilities (e.g., attention, rule use, theory of mind). However, efforts to explain behavior in terms of EF have been hampered by an inadequate characterization of EF itself. What is the function that is accomplished by EF? The present analysis attempts to ground the construct of EF in an account of problem solving and thereby to integrate temporally and functionally distinct aspects of EF within a coherent framework. According to this problem-solving framework, EF is a macroconstruct that spans 4 phases of problem solving (representation, planning, execution, and evaluation). When analyzed into subfunctions, macroconstructs such as EF permit the integration of findings from disparate content domains, which are often studied in isolation from the broader context of reasoning and action. A review of the literature on the early development of EF reveals converging evidence for domain-general changes in all aspects of EF.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)198-226
Number of pages29
JournalReview of General Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1997
Externally publishedYes


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