Take Part in Our Community Outreach!

by Megan Zhang

As part of the Neuroscience and Education Lab’s community outreach efforts, we want to share with schools, childcare centers, teachers, and parents what we have learned about executive function through our research initiatives. One of the ways in which we aim to disseminate our findings and aid the community is by visiting schools to give brief presentations about children’s executive function.

What Is Executive Function?

Executive function is a set of skills that children use when they follow directions, plan ahead, and keep their emotions under control. Such skills include working memory, ability to shift attention, and ability to remain focused, and executive function goes hand-in-hand with self-regulation. These skills develop during early childhood and have been shown to be extremely critical for future academic success.

What Is the Presentation About?

During the presentation, at least two members of our lab will visit your school and give a 15-20 minute presentation discussing executive function and self-regulation, the effects these skills have on future academic performance, and some ways to improve them during early childhood. We will also discuss our lab’s current study, which uses new computer games designed to measure executive function in 3-to-5 year olds from diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. If the children at your center or school would like to get involved, we’d love to bring you onboard.

How Can I Sign Up?

If you’d like us to pay a visit to your school for a brief presentation, contact Diana Andrade at 212-998-5198 or da841@nyu.edu. We’d love to hear from you!

ACF’s Mark Greenberg Visits NEL

by Megan Zhang

On March 21st, the Neuroscience and Education Lab had the honor of hosting Mark Greenberg, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), for a lab visit.

During Mr. Greenberg’s visit, we discussed the progress we have made in the ABC Project and presented preliminary findings on the correlation between caregivers’ self-reported experience with partner conflict and their performance on a task called Dot Probe. Dot Probe is a test designed to assess selective attention to threatening versus non-threatening stimuli. We hoped the test would help determine the strength of participants’ “executive functions,” such as working memory, attention, and problem-solving.

We also had an in-depth discussion with Mr. Greenberg regarding the role of research in Early Head Start, an ACF initiative that aims to provide support in the realm of child development and family services to low-income families. We then visited the Children’s Aid Society site in East Harlem, where supervising staff discussed their experiences with implementing the PALS (a parenting intervention that is a component of the ABC Project) curriculum for treatment families.

We are grateful for the opportunity to have hosted Mark Greenberg at our lab and look forward to hosting him again.

Non-Cognitive Factors Affect Children’s Success


by Megan Zhang

The American Educational Research Association recently held a panel for prestigious scholars in developmental research to discuss non-cognitive factors that may affect students’ success in school, and the implications of these factors for school improvement.

In recent years, the concept that non-IQ factors play a critical role in student learning and persistence has taken off, igniting research projects and experiments all over the country. Interventions to improve children’s self-regulation, for example, have proven to have lasting, beneficial effects in multiple areas of childhood development. The AERA panel focused its discussion on how research findings can be used to improve students’ learning and overall success in school.

The panel, chaired by Dr. David Yeager of Stanford University, included NEL’s Dr. Cybele Raver, along with Dr. Angela Duckworth from UPenn, Drs. Carol Dweck, Geoffrey Cohen, and Gregory Walton from Stanford, and Anthony S. Bryk from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

At the panel, Dr. Raver shared an approach to educational intervention which centers around improving children’s self-regulatory skills that provide the foundation for early academic learning. Children’s learning relies heavily on higher-order cognitive processes known as executive functions, which include attention, working memory, and inhibitory control. To provide a sense of just how critical executive functions are, studies have shown that children’s prowess in executive functions during early childhood are a better predictor of future academic performance than even IQ is. Exposure to high negative arousal causes a build-up of “toxic stress” in children and is disruptive to their executive functions, thus resulting in such things as test anxiety. This toxic stress in turn disrupts the neuroendocrine system, which plays a crucial role in emotional regulation. Studies have shown that the strength of children’s executive functions decreases as children’s emotional regulation worsens. Lack of ability to self-regulate can also be detrimental for children’s futures; low emotional self-regulation is associated with twice the likelihood of criminal conviction later in life.

However, Dr. Raver pointed out during the panel that executive function and emotional regulation are malleable–in other words, they can be repaired and improved with intervention. The Chicago School Readiness Project, which Dr. Raver leads, aims to buffer children from the negative effects of toxic stress by intervening with both the children and their parents. Interventions include such things as training teachers to better support children’s self-regulation in the classroom, coaching teachers to improve classroom management, and applying curriculum designed specifically to improve children’s executive functions. These interventions can yield significant effects, as measured by improved academic performance and more positive behavioral assessments, as well as lower risk of negative health outcomes. Such findings are highly promising for helping children overcome poverty-related obstacles and adversity.

The correlation between emotional self-regulation and executive function does bring to light the academic and behavioral risks brought about by poverty, but interventions in early childhood and adolescence are bringing hope to children faced with such difficulties. Read more about the Chicago School Readiness Project here.

Have questions and comments? Leave them below!

Welcome to the Official NEL Blog!

Welcome to the official blog for NYU’s Neuroscience & Education Lab!

As part of NYU Steinhardt’s Institute of Human Development and Social Change initiative, NEL conducts research on a variety of topics involving childhood development, ranging from educational success to toxic stress.

Here is a brief overview of our main projects:

  • The ABC study collaborates with two Early Head Start partners to study the role that Early Head Start can play in supporting parenting and buffering children from the negative effects of toxic stress.
  • The ToolsK study seeks to understand how children best learn in kindergarten and succeed in school.
  • The ToolsELL Project focuses on how different teaching practices influence preschool children’s early academic development among English language learners.
  • The Family Life Project seeks to develop a better understanding of how growing up in rural areas might influence the development of children and their families.
  • The Chicago School Readiness Project (CSRP) aims to improve low-income, preschool-aged children’s chances of success in school through a comprehensive, classroom-based intervention.

Here are some examples of our findings:

  1. Early stress in the lives of children living in poverty affect how these children develop executive functions, which are a set of cognitive processes that include working memory, reasoning, and problem solving. Executive functions are critical for school readiness.
  2. There is neuroscientific evidence that chronic stressors associated with poverty-related adversity exert their influence through neuroendocrine pathways.
  3. Young children who persistently exhibit disruptive behavior in the classroom are often less engaged and less positive about learning, and they tend to have fewer opportunities for learning from peers and teachers.

Stay tuned for more updates on NEL’s work!