Executive Function

Executive Function
Think of a person who can focus on a task for hours; recall obscure trivia facts; is always late to everything. These individuals have differing mastery of their Executive Functions. Executive Functions (EFs) are the cognitive processes responsible for cueing, directing, and coordinating one's own perception, emotion, cognition, and action. Effective coordination and control of EFs allows one to take in and process information, plan actions, and execute on those plans. Conversely, ineffective mastery of EFs result in behaviors that lead to difficulties in school and work environments.
George McCloskey, a leading researcher, practitioner and lecturer in the field of EF, developed with his colleagues the "Holarchical Model of Executive Functions" (HMEF), which explains the five different levels of executive control. Among the five levels, our focus is on "Self-Regulation" - the 33 separate EFs that can be grouped into 7 clusters. To illustrate EFs in an easily relatable manner, this page highlights problem behaviors likely to be exhibited in school settings by a student experiencing difficulties with self-regulation executive capacities.

Self Regulation Executive Function "Clusters"

Attention Cluster

  • Perceive/Cue. Ability to recognize and understand signs, instructions, etc. Aware of how thoughts and actions may follow given directions
  • Focus/Select. Ability to attend to information being presented
  • Sustain. Ability to work on specific tasks for extended periods of time
  • Energize. Ability to give a strong/complete effort into working on tasks
  • Initiate. Ability to begin tasks effectively, as opposed to starting slowly or responding with long pauses
  • Inhibit. Ability to act correctly and resist impulsive actions, such as blurting out or not waiting for their turn
  • Stop. Ability to stop performing a task when directed to stop
  • Interrupt/Pause. Ability to continue to work on a task after a brief interruption
  • Flexible. Ability to change the way they think about an idea or perform a task, accepting a new routine
  • Shift. Ability to move from one activity, thought, or feeling to a new one

Optimization Cluster

  • Monitor. Ability to recognize errors or mistakes in work, as well as identifying inappropriate thoughts or feelings
  • Modulate. Ability to adjust activity level; resists overreacting or under-reacting to situations; resists becoming overstimulated or under stimulated
  • Balance. Ability to find a balance between extremes, for example: quality vs. quantity, speed vs. accuracy, talking vs. listening, or being humorous vs. being serious
  • Correct. Ability to identify and correct mistakes or inappropriate behavior

Efficiency Cluster

  • Sense Time. Ability to understand the passage of time; awareness of how long one has been working on a task or thinking of an idea
  • Pace. Ability to increase or decrease speed of performing a task as conditions dictate
  • Sequence. Ability to understand and perform the steps of a routine in the correct order
  • Execute. Ability to effectively understand and perform routines completely without stopping part-way through

Memory Cluster

  • Hold. Ability to hold onto information for more than a few seconds
  • Manipulate. Ability to actively work with information that is being held in one's mind
  • Store. Ability to store information so that it is available for later use
  • Retrieve. Ability to retrieve stored information when needed

Inquiry Cluster

  • Gauge. Ability to accurately understand what is needed to complete a task without overestimating or underestimating the effort required
  • Anticipate. Ability to look ahead and prepare for what will be next; understands the consequences of actions before acting
  • Estimate Time. Ability to accurately estimating how long it will take to perform a task or routine
  • Analyze. Ability to examine things in greater detail to understand them more completely
  • Compare/Evaluate. Ability to evaluate the quality of ones own work or thinking; can compare one thing with another across various dimensions

Solution Cluster

  • Generate. Ability to generate new ideas or find new solutions to a problem
  • Associate. Ability to see and understand how two or more things or ideas are similar or different
  • Organize. Ability to arrange things or thoughts in an orderly manner
  • Plan. Ability to work out in advance a way of doing things or thinking about things
  • Decide. Ability to choose from multiple options, including how to think, feel, or act
  • Prioritize. Ability to assign an order of importance to things or activities

Above information reprinted with permission from an upcoming book from George McCloskey.

Understanding where a child stands on these EFs provides a starting point for where a child faces barriers and where additional help and support could be beneficial. Identifor aims to contribute to a better understanding of a child's EF starting point, and over time help the child develop the deficient skills.

Of course we cannot hope to assess all these Self-Regulation EFs through our games - not even when we're much further along. We will, however, endeavor to use as much data from the various games to provide a glimpse into as many of these EFs as possible. Furthermore, we will enable the systematic use of the McCloskey Executive Function Survey (MEFS) to collect information about a child from parents, those people parents invite to provide feedback (e.g., educators, therapists, etc.) and even the child himself/herself if appropriate and possible. This 360° assessment of a child may provide valuable insights into areas of commonalities as well as areas of possible disconnects.

At the heart of Identifor's technology is GetAbby, an artificial intelligence platform that uses natural speech processing and a human avatar to enable players to have one-on-one conversations with Abby. Over time and as resources become available, we will train Abby to help players develop EF skills as all the research shows that EF skills are trainable. Since not everyone can work with Dr. McCloskey on a regular basis to build these EF skills, Abby hopes to provide a partial solution as Dr. McCloskey will train her to ask the questions he would ask, have the type of conversations he would have, etc. The aspiration is to make EF skill development much more accessible to any child who has a need.

For more information about Executive Function, explore:

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