Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2013

Document Type



Psychology & Neuroscience


Executive functioning is a fundamental part of everyday life, but develops slowly across childhood. One essential aspect of executive functioning is cognitive flexibility, the ability to update behavior and thought based on the needs of a constantly changing environment. This study investigated the role of language in the development of cognitive flexibility, which has shown contradictory effects in prior work. For example, labels impaired 3-year-olds’ cognitive flexibility as measured in an instructed cardsorting task (Yerys & Munakata, 2006), but improved 4-year-olds’ cognitive flexibility as measured in an internally-driven card-sorting task (Jacques, Zelazo, Lourenco, & Sutherland, 2007). This study tested whether these opposing findings might be explained by age differences or task differences, by testing 3-year-olds in the Flexible Item Selection Task with and without labels. Children in the condition with explicit labels performed worse than children in the condition with ambiguous labels. These results suggest that explicit labels may impair cognitive flexibility in 3-year-olds, regardless of task, suggesting that age determines whether labels will help or hurt children’s cognitive flexibility. Theoretical implications and future directions are discussed.