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Voluntary task switching in children: Switching more reduces the cost of task selection

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    Rights statement: ©American Psychological Association, 2019. This paper is not the copy of record and may not exactly replicate the authoritative document published in Developmental Psychology. Please do not copy or cite without author's permission. The final article is available, upon publication, at: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2019-26877-001?doi=1

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Original languageEnglish
JournalDevelopmental Psychology
Early online date16 May 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 May 2019


Emerging cognitive control supports increasingly efficient goal-directed. With age, children are increasingly expected to decide autonomously and with little external aid which goals to attain. However, little is known about how children engage cognitive control in such a self-directed fashion. The present study examines self-directed control development by adapting the voluntary task switching paradigm—the gold standard measure of this control form in adults—for use with 5-6 year-old and 9-10 year-old children. Overall, p(switch) suggests that even younger children can engage self-directed control successfully. However, other measures showed they struggled with task selection. Specifically, compared with older children and adults, they relied more on systematic strategies which reduced the cost of task selection, even when the strategy involved switching more often. Like externally driven control, self-directed control relies critically on task selection processes. These two forms of control likely form a continuum rather than two discrete categories.

    Research areas

  • self-directed control, cognitive control, voluntary task switching, endogenous control, cognitive development

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