Executive function and attention predict low-income preschoolers' active category learning

Abstract

Recent studies find that school-age children learn better when they have active control during study. Yet little is known about how individual differences in strategy or cognitive control skills may affect active learning for preschoolers, nor if experimental measures of active learning map onto real-world learning outcomes. The current study assesses 101 low-income 5-year-olds on an active category learning task, and measures of executive function, attention, and school readiness. We find that preschoolers use an informative sampling strategy for categories defined by stimuli features in 1D and when presented with a distractor dimension (2D). Children accurately classify in 1D, but show mixed performance in 2D. Attention predicts sampling accuracy, and working memory and inhibitory control predict classification accuracy. Performance in the active learning task predicts early math and pre-literacy skills. These findings suggest that trial-by-trial learning decisions may reveal insight into how cognitive control skills support the acquisition of knowledge.


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