What’s Executive Function—and Why Does It Matter?
The skills that make up executive function are better predictors of success than test scores, IQ, or socioeconomic status.
Executive function is the brain’s air traffic controller, intercepting a tangle of thoughts and impulses and steering them toward safe, productive outcomes. Executive function allows children to improve their abilities to stay focused, plan ahead, regulate their emotions, and think flexibly and creatively.
Cultivating these skills, the research suggests, should be a priority from elementary school through high school—and perhaps even into college—and executive function remains one of the most reliable predictors of success in academics and in life, beating out test scores, IQ, and socioeconomic status. We reviewed several studies and papers as we produced this piece, including 2012 and 2014 papers from the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, 2013 research from the Encyclopedia of Early Childhood Development, 2016 research from Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, and 2017 research from Psychological Science and the Journal of Food Science Education. We also cited papers and research addressing executive function from sources here, here, and here.