Symbols as tools in the development of executive function

Stephanie M. Carlson, Danielle M. Beck

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

42 Scopus citations


Self-control over thought and behavior is a centrally important topic in cognitive and social development. Our research on the development of self-control aligns with theoretical and empirical investigations of executive functioning (EF), a neuropsychological approach to the study of cognitive control of representation, action, and emotion (e.g., Eslinger, 1996; Miyake et al., 2000; Stuss & Knight, 2002; Zelazo & Müller, 2002). EF is required for adaptive, goal-directed behaviors to solve novel problems, particularly those calling for the inhibition of automatic or established thoughts and responses. Thus, inhibition is a key component of EF (Casey, Tottenham, & Fossella, 2002). In this chapter, following an overview of EF, we present theory and research on symbols as tools in the development of inhibitory control skills. It is argued that pretense is a neglected aspect of symbolic thinking that might facilitate EF in addition to language. We discuss prior evidence that is consistent with this assertion and present an empirical investigation of preschool children's spontaneous strategies on a delay of gratification task, including both language and pretense strategies. EXECUTIVE FUNCTION Executive function is thought to contribute to individual differences and/or developmental changes in a wide array of cognitive abilities including attention, memory, reading comprehension, and theory of mind (e.g., Carlson, Mandell, & Williams, 2004; Dempster, 1992; Harnishfeger & Bjorklund, 1993; Posner & Rothbart, 1998). EF has also been implicated in the development of emotional and social competence and school readiness (e.g., Blair, 2002; Kochanska, Murray, Jacques, Koenig, & Vandegeest, 1996; Kopp, 1982).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPrivate Speech, Executive Functioning, and the Development of Verbal Self-Regulation
EditorsA Winsler, C Fernyhough, I Montero
Place of PublicationNew York, NY
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9780511581533
ISBN (Print)9780521866071
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2009.


Dive into the research topics of 'Symbols as tools in the development of executive function'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this