The Validation of Cognitive Tasks for Studying Executive Functions in Children


  • Mila Taškovska University of Ljubljana
  • Tomaž Žgeč University of Ljubljana
  • Lara Oblak University of Ljubljana
  • Nina Purg University of Ljubljana
  • Anka Slana Ozmič University of Ljubljana
  • Grega Repovš University of Ljubljana



Executive functions refer to a set of mental processes, including attention, working memory, inhibition, and cognitive flexibility, that enable the monitoring and control of behavior. Due to their central role in cognition, executive functions are often disrupted in various neurological and psychiatric disorders [1]. During childhood, executive functions undergo developmental changes characterized by a shift from reactive to proactive control, which typically occurs around the age of 5. Reactive control is cognitive control applied as a corrective mechanism after a cognitively demanding event, while proactive control entails maintaining goal-relevant information before such an event to facilitate more effective responses [2]. However, investigating executive functions in children poses several challenges, such as the primary development of behavioral tasks for adults, lack of testing on children, and tasks being too demanding for children, resulting in reduced attention and fatigue during data collection. To address these concerns, we have developed engaging and practical behavioral tasks that provide reliable measurements for use with children.


Our study aims to assess and compare the validity of different versions of the AX-CPT task, specifically designed to evaluate reactive and proactive control [3]. The AX-CPT task is structured using a series of visual stimuli, where each trial consists of a sequential presentation of an initial stimulus (A or B) followed by a subsequent stimulus (X or Y). Participants are instructed to respond differently in the AX condition compared to all other conditions. The study will involve approximately 300 participants spanning a wide age range, from children to elderly. We will attempt to determine the optimal proportions of task conditions (AX, AY, BX, and BY) for children aged 8 to 15 by analyzing response accuracy and reaction time and comparing the results with those obtained from older age groups.

Results and Conclusions

Our preliminary results, based on data collected from 47 young adults, indicate a prevalent use of proactive control, which aligns with our expectations. Upon comparing the analyses of diverse task variations, notable distinctions in their validity were observed, indicating that variants featuring a higher proportion of AX trials may exhibit greater reliability for practical applications. To establish more robust conclusions regarding the most appropriate tasks for children, further investigation involving a larger dataset encompassing different age groups is warranted.


[1] A. Diamond, “Executive functions,” Annual Review of Psychology, vol. 64, no. 1, pp. 135–168, 2013. doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-113011-143750 

[2] C. Gonthier, M. Zira, P. Colé, and A. Blaye, “Evidencing the developmental shift from reactive to proactive control in early childhood and its relationship to working memory,” Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, vol. 177, pp. 1–16, 2019. doi:10.1016/j.jecp.2018.07.001

[3] C. H. Chatham, M. J. Frank, and Y. Munakata, “Pupillometric and behavioral markers of a developmental shift in the temporal dynamics of cognitive control,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 106, no. 14, pp. 5529–5533, 2009. doi:10.1073/pnas.0810002106