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Physicians decide on the optimal psychostimulant dose for a child with ADHD by asking the childs parent how the child is doing on different doses. The parent bases his/her answer on the childs behavior. Another goal of the lab is to find practical ways to help children develop healthy EFs, and thus to help more children thrive. One goal of the lab is to examine fundamental questions about how PFC and EFs are influenced by biological factors (such as genes and neurochemistry) and by environmental factors (including detrimental influences such as poverty or stress and facilitative ones such as interventions). For example, the lab examines ways in which unusual properties of the PFC dopamine system contribute to the exceptional sensitivity and vulnerability of PFC and EFs to environmental and genetic variations that have little effect elsewhere in the brain, and how at least some of these effects are different in men and women. Cognitive deficits in a genetic mouse model of the most common biochemical cause of human mental retardation. Even though PFC is very immature early in life and takes a very long time to develop, it can already subserve elementary versions of the highest cognitive functions during the first year of life. Conditions under which young children CAN hold two rules in mind and inhibit a prepotent response. doi:10.1037//0012-16220.127.116.112 PMID:12005379 (abstract) (pdf) Diamond, A.
As a graduate student, Diamond realized that for 50 years developmental psychologists and neuroscientists had been using essentially the same behavioral task without knowing it.
One of those relates to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
We predict, and are testing, that physicians prescribing the correct dose of psychostimulants for controlling hyperactivity in patients with ADHD are prescribing too high a dose for patients cognitive problems. Inability of 5-month-old infants to retrieve a contiguous object: A failure of conceptual understanding or of control of action? PMID10836557 (Special issue: New directions for Child Development in the 21st Century).
Yet sadness, stress, loneliness, or poor health causes ones EF performance to be worse and works against efforts to improve EFs or academic outcomes.
Conversely, EFs are better when one feels emotionally and socially nourished and healthy.
She has made discoveries that have improved treatment for two different medical disorders and discoveries that have impacted education, improving the lives of millions of children. EFs include being able to 'think outside the box' and see things from other perspectives (cognitive flexibility), mentally relating different ideas and facts to one another (working memory), and giving a considered response rather than an impulsive one, resisting temptations, and staying focused (inhibitory control, including selective attention).