What are Executive Functions?

Executive functions are a family of top-down mental processes that make it possible to mentally play with ideas; approach unanticipated challenges with flexibility; take the time to think before acting; resist temptations, and to stay focused.

Find Out Your Executive Function Profile

Executive functions are interrelated, and they depend on a neural circuit in which the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain plays a prominent role. The core executive functions include:

  • Inhibitory and interference controlself-control, selective attention, cognitive inhibition, resisting temptations and resisting acting impulsively

  • Working memoryOur mental workspace that controls our ability to retain and manipulate pieces of information over short periods of time

  • Cognitive flexibilitythinking “outside the box”, seeing things from different perspectives, and quickly and flexibly adapting to changed circumstances.

Individuals who have executive function challenges might find everyday tasks challenging such as:

  • Keeping track of time
  • Conceptualising how long a task will take
  • Making plans
  • Getting started on a task
  • Staying focused during a task
  • Regulating emotional responses

Who benefits from support to develop executive function skills?

The answer to this question is simple – everybody.

We all have executive functions that don’t fully stop developing until our late twenties. Childhood and adolescence present an opportunity to embed strong skills early on. However, some people need more support than others.

Everyone can benefit from understanding executive function skills, how their brains work, how it affects their learning, performance and behaviour. They can use this information to get work done, regulate their emotions and manage everyday life. There are some groups of people for whom more intensive support to develop good executive function skills can be really beneficial.

People with executive function skills challenges are often bright and able, but seem unable to manage their daily lives. These people are often seen as lazy and unmotivated and people in their community can become increasingly frustrated by their apparent difficulty in doing the ‘basic things’ in life. Problems with task initiation, time management, planning and organisation, shifting and task monitoring can have a significant impact on their performance. The result can be a person who is isolated from their community (personal, educational or professional) and underperforming in relation to their potential.

There is also a well-established link between poverty, trauma and executive function deficits. This link can translate into people experiencing the challenges described above and also displaying behavioural issues linked to the executive function, and inhibitory control.

People from all backgrounds can benefit from additional support to strengthen their executive function skills.

Watch cognitive neuro-psychologist Prof. Adele Diamond’s TED talk.

Executive Function & Self-Regulation –
Harvard Centre for the Developing Child

Contact us today for more information about how we can support you to improve your executive function skills.

Email: info@connectionsinmind.co.uk or
Call: 0208 050 1605


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