Evidence for a relation between executive function and pretense representation in preschool children

Stephanie M Carlson, Rachel E. White, Angela C. Davis-Unger

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115 Scopus citations


Several theoretical formulations suggest a relation between children's pretense and executive function (EF) skills. However, there is little empirical evidence for a correlation between these constructs in early development. Preschool children (N= 104; M age. = 4-0) were given batteries of EF and pretense representation measures, as well as verbal, memory, and appearance-reality control tasks. Confirmatory factor analysis revealed two separable but overlapping aspects of EF (Conflict and Delay). EF was significantly related to pretense after accounting for all controls. Understanding the pretend-reality distinction was strongly related to Conflict EF, whereas performing pretend actions was more strongly related to Delay EF. These results, although correlational, are consistent with the claim that EF skills are implicated in pretense, such as inhibiting reality and flexibly manipulating dual representations, and offer a potential mechanism by which pretend play interventions may enhance childhood EF.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalCognitive Development
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by NICHD ( R03HD041473 ) awarded to SMC. We thank the children and families for participating, as well as several undergraduate research assistants. Statistical help was generously provided by Chee Seng Tan.


  • Executive function
  • Inhibitory control
  • Pretense
  • Representation


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