Abstract: The deliberate control of thought, action, and emotion depends importantly on a set of attentional skills called executive function (EF) skills. EF skills support school readiness, academic success, socioemotional competence, physical and mental health, and other desirable developmental outcomes. This lecture discusses EF, its development in childhood, and effective ways to support this development. One example is mindfulness training—using age-appropriate activities to exercise children’s reflection on their moment-to-moment experiences. Mindfulness training may support the development of self-regulation by targeting top-down processes while modifying bottom-up influences (such as anxiety, stress, curiosity) to create conditions conducive to reflection.
Philip David Zelazo is currently the Nancy M. and John E. Lindahl Professor at the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota. Professor Zelazo’s research has helped shape current scientific understanding of executive function and its development, including the key roles of reflection, rule use, hierarchical complexity, mindfulness, and emotion (hot versus cool EF). This work has led to the design of widely used standardized measures of EF skills and to the creation of effective interventions for promoting the healthy development of EF in early childhood. Professor Zelazo’s research has been honored by numerous awards, including a Boyd McCandless Young Scientist Award from the American Psychological Association (APA), and a Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 Award. He is editor of the two-volume Oxford Handbook of Developmental Psychology (2013), and the lead developer of the executive function measures for the NIH Toolbox.