Development of Executive Functions Through Play Activities: A Theoretical Overview

Keywords: preschool age, play, executive functions, working memory, cognitive flexibility, inhibition, self-regulation, imagination, object substitution, symbolic tools


Introduction. Play is a symbolic space through which children cognize the world around them and master their mental processes. This study considers the potential of play activity for the development of various higher mental functions in preschool-age children.

Theoretical Basis. This section describes working memory, inhibition, and cognitive flexibility as components of executive functions and demonstrates how they are involved in play activity.

Results. This section summarizes: a) correlation studies on the relationship between self-regulation and play; and b) formative experiments that used play activity for the development of executive functions. Correlation studies showed that free play with peers has a complex structure and includes various aspects (role-taking, play substitution of objects and actions, and interaction with peers), which are differently related to the development of executive functions in preschool children. Attention is also given to studies that establish the relationship between children’s imagination in a play situation and the development of executive functions. Formative experiments indicated that a certain level of the development of executive functions is important for the implementation of play activities. At the same time, play activity is a mechanism for the development of executive functions.

Discussion. The authors concentrate on limitations of the analyzed studies. The major drawback they identified is that previous studies of play activity examined its certain components in isolation (object substitution, role-taking, and imaginary situation). This review calls for further research that would identify a number of parameters and undertake a long-term observation to describe play activity of every individual child. Play activity is not simply a context for children’s emotional involvement; it is also important for the symbolic situations of the play to be close to their interests. Thus, the authors establish the complexity of organizing the development of executive functions within formative experiments using play activity. The study emphasizes the great potential of this direction of research.


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Author Biographies

Aleksandr N. Veraksa, Lomonosov Moscow State University

доктор психологических наук, доцент, и.о. заведующего кафедрой психологии образования и педагогики, член-корреспондент РАО

Daria А. Bukhalenkova, Lomonosov Moscow State University

аспирант кафедры возрастной психологии

Vera А. Yakupova, Lomonosov Moscow State University

кандидат психологических наук, научный сотрудник кафедры методологии психологии


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How to Cite
Veraksa, A. N., BukhalenkovaD. А., & YakupovaV. А. (2019). Development of Executive Functions Through Play Activities: A Theoretical Overview. Russian Psychological Journal, 15(4), 97-112.
Developmental Psychology