It is now established and known that executive functions are closely related (together with intelligence) to many aspects of our life: we have data regarding their predictivity with respect to academic performance, To creativeness, the ability to read and the text comprehension, mathematical skills, language andaggression.
Usually, however, in analyzing the effect of executive functions on important aspects of our life, research focuses mainly on the so-called cold executive functions, that is the more "cognitive" and free from emotions (for example, the working memory, cognitive flexibility and inhibition); much less is spoken instead of the so-called hot executive functions, that is, those that concern the purposes that guide our decisions (especially if permeated by emotional and motivational aspects), emotional control, the search for gratifications and the ability to postpone them.
In 2018, Poon has therefore decided to test a group of adolescents with respect to school learning and with respect to their psychological well-being and ability to adapt; at the same time, the same adolescents were subjected to evaluation of executive functions, both cold and hot, through a special standardized battery.
What emerged from the research?
Despite what the author said in his own article, all tests used to assess cold (attentional control, working memory inhibition, cognitive flexibility and planning) and hot (decision making) were poorly or not at all correlated with each other (the highest correlation, and only one to reach the level of statistical significance, was only r = 0,18!); this allows us to hypothesize, in line with what Miyake and colleagues have argued, that the various components of executive functions are relatively dissociable from each other.
Certainly a very interesting aspect is that, net of the influence of the intellectual level, cold executive functions were predictive of the academic performance and cordial executive functions proved to be predictive ofpsychological adaptation.
The cold and hot executive functions, while working synergistically, then seem to be two different constructs and with a different importance with respect to various life contexts.
Finally, other noteworthy data concern the trend of scores in the tests used in this research, from 12 to 17 years of age: the verbal working memory shows a continuous growth with age (in the range considered in this research), also showing a rapid increase around 15 years of age; also the attention control appears in constant growth in this age group; there cognitive flexibility it seems to increase continuously up to 16 years of age; similarly, the ability to inhibition shows a steep rise from 13 to 16; there planningfinally, it shows a continuous growth with age, showing however a peak of increase around 17 years of age.
Very different is the trend of cordial executive functions since the trend from 12 to 17 years of age is bell-shaped (or inverted "U"); in other words, around 14-15 years of age, worse performances are observed (in this research) compared to the previous and subsequent ages; more precisely, in this age group there is a greater propensity to risk and the search for small but immediate gratifications (compared to those more distant in time but larger).
To conclude ...
With regard to cold executive functions, inhibition, working memory and cognitive flexibility appear to mature earlier than in planning; it can therefore be assumed that the former (more basic) constitute the basis for the development of the latter (of a higher order).
Compared to hot executive functions, the observed inverted "U" pattern could explain the increased propensity for risk behaviors frequently observed in adolescence.
More generally, the tests for cold executive functions and those for hot executive functions appear to actually measure different constructs: the former, in fact, seem to be more related to the achievement of more "cognitive" objectives (for example, school performance) , the latter are more related to more social and emotional objectives.
A more integrated vision of executive functions is therefore useful, too often unbalanced exclusively on the more components cold.
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- Miyake, A., Friedman, NP, Emerson, MJ, Witzki, AH, Howerter, A., & Wager, TD (2000). The unity and diversity of executive functions and their contributions to complex “frontal lobe” tasks: A latent variable analysis. Cognitive psychology, 41
- Poon, K. (2018). Hot and cool executive functions in adolescence: development and contributions to important developmental outcomes. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 2311.