Less Is More - Executive function and symbolic representation in preschool children

Stephanie M. Carlson, Angela C. Davis, Jamie G. Leach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

211 Scopus citations


Executive function is recognized as a critical component of children's cognitive and social development. In two studies, a measure of executive function that had been used in research with chimpanzees was adapted for preschoolers. On this task, called Less Is More, children must point to a smaller reward (two candies) to receive a larger reward (five candies). In Study 1 (N = 101), performance was significantly related to age (3 vs. 4), verbal ability, and established measures of executive function. In Study 2 (N = 128), symbolic representations substituted for real candies in this task. Three-year-olds' performance improved significantly as afunction of symbolic distancing. This research has implications for the role of symbol systems in the development of executive control over thought and action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)609-616
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2005
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Grant RO3-041473-02 (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development) to S.M.C. supported this research. We thank the families and child-care centers for participating; Walter Mischel, Yuichi Shoda, and Marjorie Taylor for helpful suggestions; and Melissa Riley and Suzanna Ramirez for assisting in data collection.

Copyright 2011 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


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