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Individual differences in early executive functions

   Department of Psychology

About the Project

Executive functions are the set of high-level goal-directed thinking skills that develop rapidly during early childhood. While a lot is known about executive function development between the ages of 3 and 5, we know much less about how executive functions develop over the toddler years, known as the ’dark ages’ of cognitive development. In some of our recent work, we have found that important developments occur between the ages of 2 and 3 in children’s ability to flexibly switch their behaviour. A project in this area would extend this work to try and understand how executive functions emerge during these early years, and why we see such big individual differences in executive functions. Projects could track how executive functions develop over time during this stage of development, how they predict more complex cognitive skills and/or how they are influenced by socioeconomic factors.

The PhD researcher will be part of the Sheffield Cognitive Development lab and be able to make use of our excellent links with local nurseries and schools, extensive family volunteer database and testing facilities. Please see our website for more information about the lab:

Funding Notes

Self funded or externally sponsored students only. Intakes are usually October and March annually.
NB The University has some scholarships under competition each year. More details can be found - View Website


Blakey, E., Matthews, D., Cragg, L., Buck, J., Cameron, D., Higgins, B., Pepper, L., Ridley, E., Sullivan, E., & Carroll, D.J. (2020). The Role of Executive Functions in Socioeconomic Attainment Gaps: Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial. Child Development, 91, 1594-1614.
Blakey, E., Visser, I., & Carroll, D.J. (2016). Working memory and inhibitory control enable different kinds of cognitive flexibility: Evidence from 2- to 4-year-olds. Child Development, 87(2), 513-526.

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