Why Simon Says is so Difficult for children

Topics: Developmental psychology, Executive functions, Psychology Pages: 17 (5206 words) Published: April 19, 2015
Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 126 (2014) 112–119

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Journal of Experimental Child
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/jecp

Brief Report

What makes Simon Says so difficult for young
Peter J. Marshall ⇑, Ashley R. Drew
Department of Psychology, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122, USA

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Received 23 August 2013
Revised 30 March 2014
Available online 5 June 2014
Executive functioning
Young children
Cognitive control

a b s t r a c t
Compared with conceptually similar response inhibition tasks, the game of Simon Says is particularly challenging for young children. However, possible reasons for this difference have not been systematically investigated. Here we tested the relative influence of two dissociable characteristics of the standard Simon Says task: receiving both inhibition and activation commands from the same experimenter and seeing the experimenter perform the movement along with the commands. A sample of 74 children (mean age =

55 months) were randomly assigned to complete one of five possible tasks. Four of the five tasks were variations of Simon Says involving combinations of one or two experimenters and the presence versus absence of the experimenter’s movements. The fifth task was Bear–Dragon, a commonly used executive function task in which one experimenter employed two puppets to give action commands to children. Analyses revealed that children’s performance was significantly worse on the one-person Simon Says tasks compared with the two-person tasks and the Bear–Dragon task. The presence of the experimenters’ movements alongside their commands did not have a significant effect on children’s performance. The requirement to respond to one person who is changing how different rules apply to similar actions appears to be an important determinant of the difficulty of Simon Says for young children. In terms of implications, inconsistency in how an adult applies rules to children’s actions may be a detrimental social influence on the development of cognitive control during early childhood.

Ó 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

⇑ Corresponding author.
E-mail address: peter.marshall@temple.edu (P.J. Marshall).
0022-0965/Ó 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

P.J. Marshall, A.R. Drew / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 126 (2014) 112–119


The past decade has seen sustained interest in the study of young children’s cognitive control and the closely related constructs of executive functioning and self-regulation (e.g., Carlson, 2005; Garon, Bryson, & Smith, 2008; Hughes, 2011; Munakata, Snyder, & Chatham, 2012; Zelazo et al., 2003). This interest has been partly driven by findings that aspects of early cognitive control predict salient outcomes during later childhood. For instance, performance on certain executive function tasks during the preschool years is prospectively associated with later aspects of academic performance (Gathercole & Pickering, 2000; Neuenschwander, Röthlisberger, Cimeli, & Roebers, 2012; Ponitz, McClelland, Matthews, & Morrison, 2009), with this relation going beyond the effects of IQ alone (Blair & Razza, 2007). Individual differences in the growth of executive functioning during the preschool years have also been found to predict behavior problems at 6 years of age (Hughes & Ensor, 2011). These findings and others have stimulated a considerable amount of developmental research into the malleability of executive function and the potential for interventions to promote young children’s self-regulatory abilities (Bryck & Fisher, 2012; Diamond & Lee, 2011). One central construct in the cognitive control literature is response inhibition, that is, the ability to withhold the expression of a prepotent response in a situation...

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