The proposed research represents an exploratory step in a larger project aimed at linking neurological, cognitive/developmental, educational and cultural perspectives in the study of the nature and sources of growth of executive functioning in early childhood. The broader initiative will bring together scientists from an array of disciplines and perspectives to study the impact of schooling on brain and behavioral changes in executive functioning (specifically attention control and response inhibition). The scope of the study poses a variety of challenges, particularly the need to gather electrophysiological data (through ERP measurements) on young pre-K and kindergarten children. Although traditional EEG recording systems were bulky and difficult to transport, more recent systems are more easily transported, raising the possibility of testing children in a school setting. The convenience and familiarity of testing in the child's own school makes recruiting and testing participants much easier for both participant and experimenter. Further, testing in the school setting will help to increase participation of children from low SES backgrounds as well as that of other children at risk. A primary aim of the present application during year 1 is to obtain and systematically test the operation and data from a Bio-Semi Active Two ERP system in the school environment. A related aim is to develop and assess two measures of executive functioning that can be used with the portable system with 4-5 year-old children. Finally, during year 2, a small-scale natural experiment (school cutoff) will be undertaken, examining the impact of schooling on neurological and behavioral measures of executive control.
The research makes several important contributions. First, findings will assess the feasibility of utilizing a portable ERP system for gathering electrophysiological data from young children directly in their school environment. Confirmation of the utility of the portable system will be of significant benefit to cognitive/developmental and neuroscientist researchers working with this age group. Further, results will illuminate the influence of early schooling on development of executive functioning. In so doing the project will contribute to fuller understanding of the importance of the schooling environment in shaping growth of this foundational skill. On a broader plane, the proposed work will help to forge several new directions in the study of executive functioning, integrating several levels of analysis and yielding a fuller, more comprehensive understanding of the nature of executive functioning, its neurological underpinnings, development and educational significance.
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