The Development of Rule Use in Childhood

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The ability to follow explicit rules improves dramatically during the course of childhood, and this improvement depends, in part, on a growing ability to formulate and use increasingly complex systems of rules. Relatively little is known, however, about the changes in brain structure and function that underlie these cognitive changes. Drawing from neuroscientific studies in human adults and other animals, as well as an emerging literature in developmental cognitive neuroscience, this chapter proposes a brain-based account of the development of rule use in childhood. This account focuses on four types of rules represented in different parts of prefrontal cortex (PFC). It is hypothesized that the pattern of developmental changes in rule use reflects the different rates of development of specific regions within PFC. According to this account, lateral PFCmediated reprocessing allows one to reflect on relatively simple rules (i.e. at a higher level of consciousness) and formulate higher-order rules that control the application of these simpler rules. As individuals engage in recursive reprocessing, ascend through levels of consciousness, and formulate more complex rule systems, they recruit an increasingly complex hierarchical network of PFC regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationNeuroscience of Rule-Guided Behavior
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199786695
ISBN (Print)9780195314274
StatePublished - Sep 1 2007


  • Development
  • Hierarchical network
  • Level of consciousness
  • Prefrontal cortex


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