Evidencing the developmental shift from reactive to proactive control in early childhood and its relationship to working memory


  • Gonthier Corentin
  • Zira Melody
  • Colé Pascale
  • Blaye Agnès


  • Behavioral-choice
  • School-aged children
  • Preschoolers
  • Development

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As they age, children tend to get more effective at regulating their behavior in complex situations; this improvement in cognitive control is often interpreted as a shift from predominantly reactive control to proactive control. There are three issues with this interpretation. First, hard evidence is lacking that younger children actually rely on reactive control. Second, the precise age range when such a shift would occur is still unclear. Third, the reasons for this shift have not been explored. In the current study, we tested the hypothesis that children under 5 years of age do rely on reactive control, that they progressively shift to proactive control with age, and that this shift is related to increases in working memory capacity (which is necessary for proactive control).Children aged 4 to 7 years performed a cognitive control task, the AX-CPT (AX–Continuous Performance Task), as well as verbal and visuospatial working memory tasks. Using the paradigmatic AX-CPT in this age range allowed us to observe, for the first time, an actual reactive pattern in children under 5 years of age. There was a progressive shift from reactive control to proactive control,with an estimated turning point between 5 and 6 years of age. The effect of age on proactive control was essentially shared with working memory capacity, confirming that these two cognitive processes develop in tandem.

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