Executive function across the life span

Philip David Zelazo, Fergus I.M. Craik, Laura Booth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

413 Scopus citations


The development and determinants of executive function (EF) were studied in children (mean age=8.8 years), young adults (M=22.3 years), and elderly adults (M=71.1 years). EF was indexed by perseverative responding on two bidimensional sorting tasks (Visually Cued Color-Shape task and Auditorily Cued Number-Numeral task), and age-related changes in EF were considered in relation to estimates of conscious vs. unconscious memory that were obtained using the process dissociation procedure (PDP). Results revealed the rise and fall of EF across the life span, with significant quadratic trends found for performance on both sorting tasks and for the conscious recollection component (C) of the PDP task. Regression analyses indicated that PDP estimates of conscious memory accounted for variation in performance on the visual sorting task, but not on the auditory sorting task. The findings are discussed in terms of their implications for hierarchical models of EF and its development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-183
Number of pages17
JournalActa Psychologica
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Feb 2004
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada to P.D. Zelazo and F.I.M. Craik. The authors would like to thank Jennie Sawula and Dana Liebermann for their help in preparing this article, and Ellen Bialystok for helpful comments on a previous draft.


  • Ageing
  • Executive functions
  • Lifespan
  • Task-switching


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