Karin C. Brocki & Carin Tillman (2015) Mental Set Shifting in Childhood: The Role of Working Memory and Inhibitory Control Infant and Child Development

he role of working memory (WM) and inhibition in mental set shifting was examined from an individual difference perspective in children aged 5–14 years (N = 117). Using the Hearts and Flowers task the rationale of the present study was to directly test the theoretical assumption that mental set shifiting in childhood primarily builds on WM and inhibitory processes. Theoretical predictions about WM and inhibitory demands in the congruent and incongruent conditions of the Hearts and Flowers task were also considered because these blocks underlie relevant measures of set shifting. The findings show that both WM and inhibition (extracted as factors in confirmatory factor analysis) are important for set shifting but that this general association is driven by the link between these executive functions (EFs) and the goal-representation aspect (i.e. global switch costs) of shifting, rather than to the actual switch-implementation process (i.e. local switch costs). In addition, our findings are novel in showing that, despite a substantial correlation between the two EF components, it was the variance specific to WM and inhibition that was important for mental set shifting.