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Attention, Memory, and Executive Function

Attention, Memory, and Executive Function

Volume Editors: G. Reid Lyon Ph.D., Norman A. Krasnegor Ph.D.

ISBN: 978-1-55766-856-1
Pages: 448
Copyright: 1996
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The absence of consensual, cross-disciplinary theories, definitions, and methodologies has hampered the study of attention, memory, and executive function. Incorporating different theoretical perspectives, this exceptional volume helps establish some common understanding of these three central processes. This book reveals how the authors' findings from their research in psychology, neuropsychology, special education, and medicine can help clinicians assess and remediate reading and attention disorders. Valuable directions for future research are also offered.

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Section I: Introduction to the Conceptual, Measurement, and Methodological Issues

  1. The Need for Conceptual and Theoretical Clarity in the Study of Attention, Memory, and Executive Function
    G. Reid Lyon

  2. Relationships and Distinctions Among the Concepts of Attention, Memory, and Executive Function: A Developmental Perspective
    Robin D. Morris

  3. Conceptual and Methodological Issues in Construct Definition
    Jack M. Fletcher, David J. Francis, Karla K. Stuebing, Bennett A. Shaywitz, Sally E. Shaywitz, Donald P. Shankweiler, Leonard Katz, and Robin D. Morris
Section II: Attention

  1. Critical Issues in Research on Attention
    Russell A. Barkley

  2. A Theory of Attention: An Information Processing Perspective
    Joseph Sergeant

  3. Disorders of Attention: A Neuropsychological Perspective
    Allan F. Mirsky

  4. Attention: A Behavior Analytical Perspective
    William J. McIlvane, William V. Dube, and Thomas D. Callahan

  5. Conceptualizing, Describing, and Measuring Components of Attention: A Summary
    Jeffrey M. Halperin
Section III: Memory

  1. From Simple Structure to Complex Function: Major Trends in the Development of Theories, Models, and Measurements of Memory
    Richard K. Wagner

  2. A Model of Memory from an Information Processing Perspective: The Special Case of Phonological Memory
    Joseph K. Torgesen

  3. Multiple Memory Systems: A Neuropsychological and Developmental Perspective
    Jocelyne Bachevalier, Ludise Malkova, and Mario Beauregard

  4. Attention and Memory in Relation to Learning: A Comparative Adaptation Perspective
    Duane M. Rumbaugh and David A. Washburn

  5. Conceptualizing, Describing, and Measuring Components of Memory: A Summary
    Kimberly Boller
Section IV: Executive Function

  1. Theories, Models, and Measurements of Executive Functioning: An Information Processing Perspective
    John G. Borkowski and Jennifer E. Burke

  2. A Theory and Model of Executive Function: A Neuropsychological Perspective
    Martha Bridge Denckla

  3. Relational Frame Theory and Executive Function: A Behavioral Approach
    Steven C. Hayes, Elizabeth V. Gifford, and L.E. Ruckstuhl, Jr.

  4. Linkages Between Attention and Executive Functions
    Russell A. Barkley

  5. Executive Functions and Working Memory: Theoretical and Measurement Issues
    Bruce F. Pennington, Loisa Bennetto, Owen McAleer, and Ralph J. Roberts, Jr.

  6. Addressing Problems in Attention, Memory, and Executive Functioning: An Example from Self-Regulated Strategy Development
    Steve Graham and Karen R. Harris

  7. Conceptualizing, Describing, and Measuring Components of Executive Function: A Summary
    Paul J. Eslinger
Section V: Summary and Conclusions

  1. Critical Issues and Future Directions in the Development of Theories, Models, and Measurements for Attention, Memory, and Executive Function
    H. Gerry Taylor

Copyright © 1996 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

The Need for Conceptual and Theoretical Clarity in the Study of Attention, Memory, and Executive Function

Human learning and behavior are dependent upon the ability to pay attention to critical features in the environment; retain and retrieve information; and select, deploy, monitor, and control cognitive strategies to learn, remember, and think. Without these abilities, we could not plan, solve problems, or use language. Likewise, being absent of the capacity to attend, remember, and organize and structure data within our world, we would be incapable of modifying our behavior when confronted with new situations. More directly, it would be impossible to generalize what we already know to novel situations and to acquire new concepts and strategies in coping with current, anticipated, and forthcoming events if we were not vigilant and attentive, if we could not remember the relevant cues in the environment that led to previous reinforcement, and if we were not strategic in our efforts. Thus, attention, memory, and executive function (mental control processes) play a central role in thinking, problem solving, and other complex symbolic activities involved in oral language, reading, writing, mathematics, and social behavior.

Our understanding of the development of attention, memory, and executive function take on added importance when one considers that deficits in any of these three processes typically result in difficulties succeeding in school and in the work force. The impact of attentional disorders on learning and behavior is significant. Youngsters manifesting the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder constitute the largest number of children now referred for diagnostic evaluations (see Chapter 4). Moreover, it is known that defective attentional mechanisms have long-term serious implications for children's development of memory strategies as well as intellectual and cognitive functions, including executive function (Douglas, 1980). Unfortunately, our ability to chart the specific relationships between attention, memory, and executive function has been hampered by fuzzy definitions of these domains and competition among theories and models to explain their development or lack of development.

More specifically, the central importance of attention, memory, and executive function in our development, learning, and behavior begs for a more complete theoretical and conceptual understanding of these domains. While each of the domains has a rich a history and literature, knowledge about each remains limited and fragmented. This is primarily because scientists exploring these areas approach their investigative tasks with widely divergent basic assumptions, questions, and methodologies. Researchers studying attention frequently use a variety of vocabularies and employ different theories to test their hypotheses. A review of research on memory processes reveals enormous differences in how memory is conceptualized and studied. Likewise, the study of executive function is confounded significantly by variations in definitions and confusions with other cognitive processes.

Given the substantial debate and confusion about how best to conceptualize, operationalize, and assess the domains of attention, memory, and executive function, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) sponsored a working conference to produce a state-of-the-art review about current thinking in these areas and the application of this knowledge to our understanding of child development in general and learning disabilities in particular. In order to accomplish this review, the NICHD relied heavily upon the expertise of Dr. Russell Barkley (University of Massachusetts), Dr. Jack Fletcher (University of Houston), Dr. Robin Morris (Georgia State University), Dr. Judy Rumsey (National Institute of Mental Health), and Dr. Joseph Torgesen (Florida State University) to assist the editors of this book in planning and designing a conference format that would 1) bring together leading researchers in attention, memory, and executive function; 2) provide the conference participants with the setting and time necessary to identify and discuss critical theoretical and conceptual issues; and 3) stimulate in-depth discussions of several paradigms that could serve as candidates for organizing, interpreting, and explaining research in attention, memory, and executive function. In line with our previous NICHD initiatives (see Lyon, Gray, Kavanagh, & Krasnegor, 1993; Lyon, 1994), this conference was covered with the express purpose of reviewing our ongoing research programs in learning disabilities, language disorders, and disorders of attention and suggesting future research directions.

The chapters in this book summarize the topics that were discussed in detail throughout the 3-day NICHD Conference on Attention, Memory, and Executive Function. Readers will note that each of the three domains is addressed from the perspective of three major scientific paradigms. Specifically, development and disorders within the domains of attention, memory, and executive function are each viewed through the lens of an information processing paradigm, a neuropsychological paradigm, and a behavioral paradigm. Our decision to construct the conference and this book according to this three-paradigm scaffolding was predicated on Torgesen's (1986, 1994) seminal reviews of literature, which indicated that the lion's share of research in attention, memory, and executive function can be organized and interpreted in a relatively clean fashion if one employs these three overarching superordinate categories. Simply put, we felt that this structure would afford us with the opportunity to provide the field with an initial theoretical and conceptual analysis of the major issues, measurement domains, and types of behaviors that should be identified and studied if one's goal is to increase their understanding of attention, memory, and executive function and the relationship of these issues to the study of learning and learning disabilities.

In inviting scientists to participate in the NICHD Conference on Attention, Memory, and Executive Function and to contribute to this volume, we asked each author to consider four sets of questions:

  1. What theoretical context and theoretical model guide your conceptual view of attention, or memory, or executive function?
  2. What are the primary constructs within the model?
  3. How can the model and the constructs be operationalized?
    1. What instruments, tests, and/or procedures can be used to measure the model and the constructs?
    2. What are the criteria that are used to select and/or develop the instruments, tests, and/or procedures?
    3. What populations are most relevant in testing the model?
  4. What are a series of testable hypotheses that can provide an opportunity for discomfirmation of the model, and what specific experimental designs and experiments would be designed and conducted? To answer these questions, we brought together theorists and researchers in the fields of cognitive psychology, experimental neuropsychology, educational psychology, applied behavior analysis, special education, pediatrics, and neurology to represent each of the three major paradigms that guided discussions. In the chapters that follow, the four sets of questions are addressed at different levels of complexity and completeness. This is because the corpus of information available from the study of attention, for example, may presently be more plentiful and robust than the data currently available for executive function. Nevertheless, the chapters considered individually and collectively should provide the reader with a comprehensive and in-depth analysis of current theory and research in developmental aspects related to attention, memory, and executive function.

    Overview of the Book

    The book is organized into four sections. The first section (Chapters 1, 2, and 3) provides an overview of the conceptual, measurement, and methodological issues critical to an understanding of current research directions in attention, memory, and executive function. In Chapter 2, Robin D. Morris points out that improved measurement will be critical if we are to ever understand the multivariate constructs of attention, memory, and executive function and how these constructs can inform our grasp of the cognitive mechanisms that are related to learning and learning disabilities. Morris goes on to provide clear and compelling discussions about the need to understand the theoretical overlap of attention, memory, and executive function and the developmental considerations that must be addressed if one is to derive powerful measures of these constructs. In Chapter 3, Jack M. Fletcher and his colleagues from the University of Houston Learning Disabilities Intervention Project and the Yale Center for the Study of Learning and Attention bring to bear their substantial theoretical and methodological expertise on the task of delineating the steps that should be taken to define and validate the constructs of attention, memory, and executive function. This conceptual and methodological road map for establishing construct validity must be read in detail if advances in our understanding are to be expected.

    Section II is devoted to the subject of attention. Chapter 4, Russell A. Barkley sets the stage for the following discussions of attention from information processing, neuropsychological, and behavioral perspectives by providing a rich overview and analysis of critical issues in attention research. In Chapter 5, Joseph Sergeant describes attention from an information processing perspective with an eye toward explaining individual differences in cognitive functioning as well as delineating the role of attention in developmental psychopathology. His discussion demonstrates the critical relationship that must exist between the articulation of a theoretical model and a theoretical construct and the measurement of the construct. In Chapter 6, Allan F. Mirsky addresses the construct of attention and the development of attentional mechanisms from the perspective of a research neuropsychologist. Like Sergeant, Mirsky discusses the roles and relationships between theory, experimental methods, measurement, and research. In Chapter 7, William J. McIlvane, William V. Dube, and Thomas D. Callahan discuss the construct of attention from a behavioral perspective and the conceptual and empirical assumptions for their position. They also elucidate the conditions that must be in place in order to demonstrate that a behavioral analytic conceptualization of attention can predict and explain how one does or does not attend to critical cues and features in their experiment. In Chapter 8, Jeffery M. Halperin summarizes the information processing, neuropsychological and behavioral views on attention that were provided in Section II. His comparison and contrast of the three different theoretical constructs and theoretical models of attention speak to the tremendous complexity of attention and the need to amalgamate different perspectives and theories to enhance understanding and treatment of disorders of attention.

    Section III focuses on the extraordinarily complex topic of memory. To set the stage for the discussion in this section, Richard K. Wagner, writing in Chapter 9, reviews the major issues in memory research that influence theory, models, and measurement. Wagner's excellent can stand alone as a valuable contribution to existing literature on short-term memory and its measurement. In Chapter 10, Joseph K. Torgesen uses his knowledge of phonological processing and memory to exemplify how information processing models can make a substantial contribution to the study of individual differences in memory functions. Particularly relevant to this book, and our overall goals in the NICHD Learning Disabilities Research Program, Torgesen demonstrates how the information processing paradigm can explicate the relationship between deficits in phonological representation in memory and difficulties developing early reading skills. In Chapter 11, Jocelyne Bachevalier and her associates from the University of Texas and the National Institute of Mental Health take a direction different from that proposed by Torgesen and address various forms of memory with an emphasis on their neural organization. To accomplish this, Bachevalier, Malkova, and Beauregard review data related to neuropsychological studies to demonstrate how this scientific paradigm can shed light on the existence of multiple memory systems and memory disorders. In Chapter 12, Duane M. Rumbaugh and David A. Washburn provide a fascinating discussion of how comparative studies of chimpanzees and rhesus monkeys, conceived designed, and conducted from the perspective of a behavioral paradigm, can inform our understanding of memory development and disorders in children. In Chapter 13, Kimberly Boller takes on the daunting task of summarizing the major points made in Chapters 10, 11, and 12. Boller not only highlights the critical issues and points relevant to research on memory raised by each of the authors, but brings her own research and experience to a wise analysis of these points.

    In Section IV, seven chapters are devoted to analysis and discussion of executive function. This section is necessarily longer than the preceding sections on attention and memory for two reasons. First as in the sections on attention and memory, three chapters are devoted to a discussion of executive function from the perspectives of information processing, neuropsychology, and behavioral theories, respectively. However, given the relatively young literature in the area of executive function and the significant interrelations that are hypothesized to exist among attention, memory, and executive function, additional chapters are provided to explicitly address these linkages and their influence on the development of strategies for learning. In Chapter 14, John G. Borkowski and Jennifer E. Burke provide a well-organized and well-written account of the emergence of the construct of executive function in cognitive and developmental psychology. Within this context, they clarify the role of executive function as it is currently described in psychological theories and articulate the major issues that must be addresses if studies of executive function are to inform current understanding of cognitive development and learning. Martha Bridge Denckla follows in Chapter 15 with a neuropsychological perspective on executive function. Her discussion highlights the need to conceptualize executive function as composed of control processes that undergird our ability to orient, plan, program responses, and verify and modify our performance. In Denckla's view, these control processes are intimately intertwined with brain function, and thus the relations between complex executive behaviors and neurological functioning should be identified and explained. In their discussion in Chapter 16 of a behavioral theory that can explain different executive functions, Steven C. Hayes, Elizabeth B. Gifford, and L.E. Ruckstuhl address the critical issue of the definition of executive function. To our benefit, they also discuss the problems that arise when constructs such as executive function are linked, possibly prematurely, to specific regions of the brain. The authors also provide a significant contribution to our understanding via their clear description of candidate tests for a theory of executive function. In Chapter 17, written by Russell A. Barkley, and in Chapter 18, written by Bruce F. Pennington, and his associates from the University of Denver, the linkages between executive function, attention, and memory are explored in detail; these chapters explore our conceptualization of executive function as a complex process capable of mediating and modifying what we pay attention to and what we can retain and recall. In Chapter 19, Steve Graham and Karen R. Harris discuss how principles derived from several perspectives on attention, memory, and executive function can serve as a foundation for developing powerful instructional methodologies to enhance academic learning; the chapter also demonstrates how theory can be directly applied to teaching in practical settings. In Chapter 20, Paul J. Eslinger provides a detailed and informative summary of the major issues that were discussed relative to executive function.

    Finally, in Section V, H. Gerry Taylor applies his substantial theoretical, experimental, and clinical knowledge to the job of bringing coherence to the diverging perspectives on attention, memory, and executive function provided throughout this book. His evaluation of where we have been, where we are now, and where we need to go with respect to research in attention, memory, and executive function provides the guidance for our future scientific endeavors in these domains.

    The chief objective of this book is to present the most current information on the theoretical, conceptual, and measurement issues that are critical to our understanding of attention, memory, and executive function, and the deficits and disorders that are associated with each of these clinical and research domains when development is less than optimal. We are hopeful that the following chapters will positively and intelligently influence future efforts in research and clinical practice.

    Excerpted from Attention, Memory, and Executive Function, edited by G. Reid Lyon, Ph.D., & Norman A. Krasnegor, Ph.D.

    Copyright © 1996 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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