Attention and the Early Development of Cognitive Control Infants’ and Toddlers’ Performance on the A-not-B task

Detta är en avhandling från Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Sammanfattning: In the first years of life there is a dramatic development of cognitive abilities supporting cognitive control of behavior. This development allows the child to make future-oriented predictions and to increasingly act in a goal-directed manner. The early development of cognitive control is presumably closely tied to the maturation of the attention systems. Further, attentional control processes have been suggested to be the unifying construct underlying cognitive control in both children and adults. The general aim of the present thesis was to further our understanding of the early development of cognitive control. This aim was approached by examining the attention processes underlying cognitive control in infancy and toddlerhood, with a particular focus on age-related improvements in attentional control. This thesis consists of three studies that have used the A-not-B paradigm to investigated infants’ and toddlers’ ability to search for a hidden object or to correctly anticipate the reappearance of a hidden object. The A-not-B paradigm is one of few well-studied paradigms for research on the early development of cognitive control and this paradigm involves conflict resolution and requires a flexible shift of response set to achieve a goal.Study I of this thesis examined individual differences in 10-month-olds’ ability to search for a hidden object in a manual A-not-B task. We investigated the infants’ search behavior, both in terms looking and reaching responses, the relation between individual differences in performance on A and B trials, and also the relation between the two response modalities.Study II used eye tracking and focused on the role of attentional demand on 10- and 12-month-olds’ ability to anticipate the reappearance of a hidden object. This study intended to clarify age-related improvements, particularly in relation to the ability to resist visually distracting information that interfered with the task at hand.Study III also employed an eye tracker to measure 18-month-olds’ predictive eye movements in anticipation of a hidden object under conditions marked by different attention demands. This study not only investigated the toddlers’ ability to overcome a visual distractor, but also their ability to keep a representation in actively in mind over different delays. In addition, the 18-month-olds’ performance was compared to that of an adult group to shed further light on the development of attentional control in children.In conclusion, this thesis demonstrated that important age-related improvements in cognitive control take place by the end of the first year of life and between 12 and 18 months of age. More specifically, with increasing age, the children were able to resolve higher levels of conflict thereby demonstrating improvements in attentional control. In interpreting the present data, we argue that this development is gradual, developing from variable to stable and also that the attentional control process is best described as continuous rather dichotomous in infancy and toddlerhood. Based on our findings, future research should be motivated to examine changes in attentional control processes in relation to the early development of cognitive development.