Executive Fun(ctions)

Over the last decade, the fields of psychological and cognitive science have experienced a growing interest in executive functions, a collection of higher-order cognitive functions proven critical for adaptive, goal-directed behavior that contribute to one’s well-being. More specifically, executive functions (EF) refer to attention shifting, working memory, and inhibitory control (Miyake, Friedman, Emerson, Witzki, & Howerter, 2000). These three core functions have proven to be significant predictive measures associated with a range of positive academic and life outcomes such as: language comprehension (MacDonald, Just, & Carpenter, 1992; Daneman & Carpenter, 1980), reading abilities (DeJong, 1998; Swanson, 1994), mathematics (e.g. Bull & Scerif, 2001; Mayringer & Wimmer, 2000; Siegel & Ryan, 1989), and social and emotional well-being, including depression and anxiety (Ouimet et al., 2009; Posner & Rothbart, 2000; Martel et al., 2007; Micco et al., 2009).

While our EF skills are highly critical to daily functions, these skills do not operate optimally in all contexts and are particularly vulnerable to the effects of stress, an inherent aspect of being social-emotional individuals that current assessments fail to consider. Building on the assessment infrastructure developed by the Playful Journey Lab, we are developing a new game-based assessment to capture changes in EF within the context of stress. By developing such an assessment, we hope to provide a tool to help players optimize their core cognitive functions.

The interdisciplinary team includes:

  • Yoon-Jeon Kim
  • Louisa Rosenheck
  • Nancy Tsai from the McGovern Institute of Brain Research
  • Philip Tan from the MIT Game Lab
  • Will Freudenheim from MIT’s Comparative Media Studies/Writing Program.