Executive function: Reflection, iterative reprocessing, complexity, and the developing brain

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Key executive function (EF) skills (cognitive flexibility, working memory, inhibitory control) are essential for goal-directed problem solving and reflective learning. This article describes executive function (EF) and its development from the perspective of the Iterative Reprocessing (IR) model. According to this model, reflection, or the reflective reprocessing of information prior to responding, provides a foundation for the control of attention - flexibly, over time, and selectively (i.e., cognitive flexibility, working memory, and inhibitory control). This goal-directed modulation of attention is typically verbally mediated and involves the formulation and maintenance in working memory of explicit action-oriented rules. The development of EF is made possible, in part, by increases in the efficiency of reflective reprocessing which allow for increases in the hierarchical complexity of the rules that can be used to characterize problems and select context-appropriate rules for responding. Research designed to test the model indicates that a brief intervention targeting reflection and rule use leads to improved EF and theory of mind, and produces corresponding changes in neural function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)55-68
Number of pages14
JournalDevelopmental Review
StatePublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Published by Elsevier Inc.


  • Complexity
  • Intervention
  • Iterative Reprocessing (IR) model
  • Neuroplasticity
  • Reflection
  • Rule use


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