Are facet-specific task trainings efficient in improving children’s executive functions and why (they might not be)? A multi-facet latent change score approach




Zuber, Sascha
Joly-Burra, Emilie
Mahy, Caitlin E. V.
Loaiza, Vanessa
Kliegel, Matthias

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Journal of Experimental Child Psychology


It currently remains unclear how facet-specific trainings of three core modules of executive function (EF; updating, switching, and inhibition) directly compare regarding efficacy, whether improvements on trained tasks transfer to nontrained EF tasks, and which factors predict children’s improvements. The current study systematically investigated three separate EF trainings in 6- to 11-year-old children (N = 229) using EF-specific trainings that were similar in structure, design, and intensity. Children participated in pre- and posttest assessments of the three EFs and were randomly allocated to one of three EF trainings or to an active or passive control group. Multivariate latent change score models revealed that only the updating group showed training-specific improvements in task performance that were larger compared with active controls as well as passive controls. In contrast, there were no training-specific benefits of training switching or inhibition. Latent changes in the three EF tasks were largely independent, and there was no evidence of transfer effects to nontrained EF tasks. Lower baseline performance and older age predicted larger changes in EF performance. These seemingly opposing effects support compensation accounts as well as developmental theories of EF, and they highlight the importance of simultaneously accounting for multiple predictors within one model. In line with recent theoretical proposals of EF development, we provide new systematic evidence that questions whether modular task trainings represent an efficient approach to improve performance in narrow or in broader indicators of EF. Thereby, this evidence ultimately highlights the need for more comprehensive assessments of EF and, subsequently, the development of new training approaches.


The authors thank Laura Abdili, Niloufar Anjileli, Chiara Bernasconi, Giuliano Bizon, Marie-France Bonny, Morgane Budry, Marie Bugnon, Solange Gautier, Maëlle Gousset, Ali Hedhili, Lea Maréchal, Elsa Martinelli, Cécile Mueller, Mélissa Pegat-Toquet, Margaux Pimont, Félix Rambicur, Mélanie Silva Damil, Lysiane Sublet, and Monika Toellner for their assistance in study preparation and data collection, and they thank Adeline Moulin for her assistance with literature search.


Executive functions, School age, Children, Cognitive training, Plasticity, Latent change score modeling


Zuber, S., Joly-Burra, E., Mahy, C. E. V., Loaiza, V., & Kliegel, M. (2023). Are facet-specific task trainings efficient in improving children’s executive functions and why (they might not be)? A multi-facet latent change score approach. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 227, 105602.