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Title: A process-driven approach to the understanding of developmental differences in cognitive flexibility in young children and adults
Author: Peng, Anna Ching Chi
ISNI:       0000 0004 7961 4741
Awarding Body: Birkbeck, University of London
Current Institution: Birkbeck (University of London)
Date of Award: 2019
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The ability to update one's goal in a changing environment and adapt actions accordingly is often thought to reflect cognitive flexibility. Early childhood, from 3 to 6 years of age, is witness to a large improvement in this ability. In real life, environmental changes can be incredibly dynamic and fast, thus flexible behaviours need to happen in a timely manner. Moreover, attention operates in a multisensory environment so switching between tasks is often carried out cross-modally (e.g. stop doing the colouring exercise and put the story books away when being told to). Developmental studies with young children have generally focused on specific aspects of how the switch is initiated, if at all, in a unimodal, highly controlled framework. This approach may miss out aspects of task switching important for understanding cognitive flexibility in a wider context that relates better to real-world dynamics. Thus, the current thesis investigates young children's task switching abilities in a temporally-driven and multisensory context. My thesis combines two approaches: (1) behavioural experiments with children and adults, and (2) computational modelling. Three behavioural experiments were carried out with 4-year-olds, 6-year-olds and adults. These experiments were unimodal task-switching (UTS), cross-modal task-switching with bimodal stimuli (bimodal CMTS) and cross-modal task-switching with unimodal stimuli (unimodal CMTS) respectively. In the cross-modal experiments, not only did the participants have to switch between tasks, but the stimuli associated with the tasks could be either visual or auditory. Past research has suggested that young children can exhibit cross-modal attention effects different from those observed in adults (e.g. modality dominance). However, it remains unclear how the developmental differences in cross-modal attention manifest in a highly task-oriented context. The task-switching procedures in these experiments draw heavily from established adult taskswitching paradigms. The computational models followed the principles of Interactive Activation as described in Gilbert and Shallice (2002). These are connectionist networks with units and connections between the units. The models were used to understand the behavioural results in the bimodal CMTS experiment. A series of computational models are used to understand what factors affect performance on different trial types, how task representations and responses can be triggered proactively and reactively, and how variations in performance can be modelled using a population modelling approach. The thesis combines the current understanding of the development of cognitive control with the literature on information processes in task-switching. Finally, the thesis proposes answers to questions such as what behaviours/measures are reflective of the development of cognitive function or constraints, of information processes associated with specific tasks, and of the inter-individual differences present at different ages.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available