Self-Reflection and the cognitive control of behavior: Implications for learning

Stuart Marcovitch, Sophie Jacques, Janet J. Boseovski, Philip David Zelazo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


In this article, we suggest that self-reflection and self-control - studied under the rubric of "executive function" (EF) - have the potential to transform the way in which learning occurs, allowing for the relatively rapid emergence of new behaviors. We describe 2 lines of research that indicate that reflecting on a task and its affordances helps children to respond flexibly in a more top-down fashion despite interference from prior learning or perceptually salient aspects of the task. Research on A-not-B tasks with infants and young children revealed that postswitch flexibility is an inverted U-shaped function of number of preswitch trials. Overlearning may provide additional opportunities for reflection, in part by freeing up cognitive resources as behavior becomes automatized. Findings from the Flexible Item Selection Task with preschoolers and adults revealed that, although labeling the relevant dimension facilitates performance, performance declines when participants are prohibited from labeling. Labeling one's perspective on a situation not only helps make that perspective an explicit object of consideration, but it may also help children access more abstract conceptual descriptions of a stimulus. Research on EF has broad implications for the way in which human learning differs from learning in other species and the way in which human learning may change over the course of development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)136-141
Number of pages6
JournalMind, Brain, and Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2008


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