The measure for academic success for decades has been a person's intelligence quotient, or IQ. But new research published in the journal Child Development says that a thought process called "executive functioning," which governs the ability to reason and mentally focus, also plays a critical role in learning, especially when it comes to math skills.
"It's often thought that kids don't do well because they're dumb, and there's nothing we can do about it," says lead study author Clancy Blair, associate professor of human development and family studies at Pennsylvania State University. "But not only is executive function pivotal for academic success, it's amenable to training, and this training might make a big difference in a child?s ability."
From this fascinating Scientific American story. After identifying 'executive function' as important for math ability, it decomposes it further into two components (working memory and inhibitory control), and suggests the kind of problems that can be used for strengthening them.
Blair says that some tests of executive function can be used as training tools. A "backward digit span" test is a case in point: Person A recites a string of numbers, like 3, 6, 10, and person B has to respond with the same string, only in reverse order: 10, 6, 3. This task requires one to restrain his or her automatic inclination to mimic person A (inhibitory control), but also requires keeping the actual numbers in mind (working memory).