Interventions to improve Executive Functions

Executive functions can be developed at any point in a persons lifetime. Studies have shown improvement in executive function through interventions at all stages mentioned below:

  • Preschool age: Thorell et al.( 2009) ; Dowsett & Livesey (2000)
  • School age: Karbach & Kray (2009); Klingberg et al. (2005)
  • Adolescence: Zinke et al. (2012)
  • Adulthood: Karbach & Kray (2009)
  • Old age:  Basak et al. (2008); Karbach & Kray (2009)

Interventions which have shown to be effective to improve EF include:

  • Physical exercise: Hillman, Erickson & Kramer (2008)
  • Musical training: Rauscher, Shaw & Levine (1997)
  • Martial arts and mindfulness training: Lakes & Hoyt  (2004)
  • Computerized training: Holmes, Gathercole & Dunning (2009)

The most well studied intervention for EF development has been an online cognitive training tool called CogMed. It is a guided computer based online working memory training program which guides its user through a rigorous routine of solving computerized game-like tasks. Several studies have shown that using CogMed has led to improvements in EF.

Recently, researchers have started to explore the use of video games for training executive functions. (Strobach, Frensch & Schubert, 2012; Maillot, Perrot & Hartley, 2012; Andrews & Murphy, 2006) while others have used games specifically designed for this purpose. The reason behind this might be that games provide several affordances over other mediums. These affordances include but are not limited to factors like interactivity, intrinsic motivation, narrative design, timely feedback and well paced difficulty adjustment. 

Games which have been specifically designed for developing EF have showed positive results. A few examples of such games are:

  • BrainAge: Nouchi et al. (2012)
  • The Great Brain Experiment: McNab, Zeidman & Rutledge (2015)
  • Jungle Memory: Alloway & Alloway (2008)
  • Odd Yellow: Der Molen & Luit (2010)

Although these games have tapped into several affordances of games to facilitate EF training, they, more or less, lack in creating engaging content, incorporating affective design, providing timely and relevant feedback and most importantly adjusting game difficulty based on the user’s skill and affective state. Monkey Swing tries to overcome these shortcomings by providing a narrative based engaging game which adjusts its difficulty based on the user’s competence, hence facilitating better engagement and on-task behavior of the player.


Image Source: Efraimstochter

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