Towards a better understanding of the link between executive functions, early literacy, and emergent mathematical abilities

Mila Schwarz, Shelley Shaul

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The aim of the current study was two-fold. It aimed (i) to examine how a multi-component task, as well as more specific executive function (EF) tasks, are related to a wide range of early literacy (phonological awareness, orthographic knowledge, word writing) and emergent mathematical abilities; and (ii) to broaden our understanding of the similar (domain-general) or differential (domain-specific) nature of these relations. The study was conducted in the northern part of Israel. Our results indicated that the multi-component task Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders, which taps most EF components (attentional control, inhibition, shifting, and working memory) significantly contributed to most domains of preschool academic development. These included orthographic knowledge and emergent mathematical abilities even after controlling for the role of background cognitive skills. The findings showed that EF tasks have domain-general predictive power for pre-academic abilities that are less automatic and require more effortful processing of information such as word writing at preschool age. Moreover, our results provide clear empirical evidence for the psychometric validity of the multi-component task as a tool that can assess individual differences in EFs for the early identification of children at risk for academic difficulties. This finding can contribute to practitioners searching for an ecologically valid, age-appropriate, and age-sensitive measure of EF abilities as a diagnostic tool.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)238-268
Number of pages31
JournalWritten Language and Literacy
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© John Benjamins Publishing Company.


  • Diagnostic tool
  • Early literacy and mathematical abilities
  • Executive function
  • Multi-component task
  • Orthographic knowledge

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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