The “EF” in deficiency: Examining the linkages between executive function and the utilization deficiency observed in preschoolers

Mary M. Stone, Fran C. Blumberg, Clancy Blair, Anthony A. Cancelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


We investigated the contribution of preschoolers’ executive function (EF) skills to the effectiveness of their spontaneous strategy production when learning. Performance on computerized tasks of inhibition, attention shifting, and working memory was examined in relation to the effectiveness of 112 3- to 5-year-olds’ spontaneous strategy production on a spatial memory task. Participants were asked to remember the locations of four toys representing one of two categories (animals or chairs) placed in a wooden box. Most participants spontaneously implemented a clustering strategy by removing and/or replacing the toys according to category membership. However, less than half of these strategic participants showed concomitant memory benefits (recall of toy locations). The remainder showed a utilization deficiency. After controlling for age and IQ, participants who performed better on EF tasks were more likely to benefit from having used the clustering strategy. These findings indicate that utilization deficiencies among preschoolers may be partially accounted for by individual differences in EF.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)367-375
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of experimental child psychology
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016



  • Attention
  • Cognitive development
  • Executive function
  • Preschool
  • Spatial memory
  • Strategy
  • Utilization deficiency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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