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Executive functions in the brain, development and social context: Early contributions by neuroscientist, Adele Diamond

Jul 18, 2023 | For community

A seminal moment in my academic career was in the late 1980s while attending one of my first scientific meetings as a graduate student and hearing a fascinating talk by a female neuroscientist, Adele Diamond. She was describing prefrontal cognitive abilities in human and nonhuman primate infants using the A-not-B task (Fig. 1; Diamond and Goldman-Rakic, 1986; Diamond, 1990). This task measures executive functions (e.g., working memory, inhibitory control and mental flexibility) that enable us to focus our attention, remember, plan and juggle multiple tasks. The A-not-B task itself requires the infant to uncover an attractive toy hidden in one of two locations as the child watches, followed by a short delay and then the child’s retrieval of the object by uncovering 1 of the 2 locations (Piaget, 1952). The name of the task comes from an error that infants under 8 months of age characteristically make. That is, after correctly finding a toy hidden in location A, when the toy is then placed in location B in plain sight of the infant, the infant nonetheless reaches back to the toy’s former location A.

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