Evidence for a role of executive functions in learning biology

Sinead M. Rhodes, Josephine N. Booth, Lorna Elise Campbell, Richard A. Blythe, Nial J. Wheate, Mirela Delibegovic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Research examining cognition and science learning has focused on
workingmemory, but evidence implicates a broader set of executive
functions. The current study examined executive functions and
learning of biology in young adolescents. Fifty-six participants,
aged 12–13 years, completed tasks of working memory (Spatial
Working Memory), inhibition (Stop-Signal), attention set-shifting
(ID/ED) and planning (Stockings of Cambridge), from the
Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery. They also
participated in a biology teaching session, practical and assessment
on the topic of DNA designed specifically for the current study
that measured (a) memory for biology facts taught and (b)
understanding of information learned in the practical. Linear
regression analysis revealed that planning ability predicted
performance on the factual assessment, and both spatial working
memory and planning were predictive of performance on the
conceptual assessment. The findings suggest that planning ability
is important in learning biological facts but that a broader set of
executive functions are important for conceptual learning,
highlighting the role of executive functions in understanding and
applying knowledge about what is learned within science teaching.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-83
Number of pages17
JournalInfant and Child Development
Issue number1
Early online date7 Oct 2013
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014


  • executive function
  • working memory
  • planning
  • science learning
  • biology


Dive into the research topics of 'Evidence for a role of executive functions in learning biology'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this