Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2013

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Spencer, John P.

First Committee Member

Hazeltine, Eliot

Second Committee Member

Magnotta, Vincent

Third Committee Member

McMurray, Bob

Fourth Committee Member

Samuelson, Larissa


Executive function (EF) is a central aspect of cognition that undergoes significant changes in early childhood. Changes in EF in early childhood are robustly predictive of academic achievement and general quality of life measures later in adulthood. I develop a dynamic neural field (DNF) model which provides a process-based account of behavior and developmental change in a key task used to probe the early development of executive function--the Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS) task. In the DCCS, children must flexibly switch from sorting cards either by shape or color to sorting by the other dimension. Typically, 3-year-olds, but not 5-year-olds, lack the flexibility to do so and perseverate on the first set of rules when instructed to switch. In Study 1, I use the DNF model to integrate behavioral and neural processes by simulating hemodynamics associated with the early emergence of flexible rule-use. I then test predictions of the model using near-infrared spectroscopy. In Study 2, I develop a DCCS that can be used with adults that sheds light on key aspects of the task as they have been revealed with children. Using fMRI, a pattern of behavioral and neural effects shed light on the central processes involved in flexible rule-use. These two studies demonstrate that performance emerges as a property of system-wide interactions and that common neurocognitive effects .can be found between childhood and adulthood.


cognitive development, computation model, dynamic systems theory, Executive function


x, 140 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 129-140).


Copyright 2013 Aaron T. Buss

Included in

Psychology Commons