Bierman et al. While promising, it will be important for the present findings to be replicated and extended to address a number of limitations. For example, our sample came primarily from an affluent, suburban sample. This sample nonetheless included a broad enough range of incomes that income was predictive of self-directed EF, and the relationship between less-structured time and self-directed EF held even when controlling for income. However, less-structured time may be especially beneficial to children in safe, quiet, resource-rich environments, so it will be important to test whether it differentially relates to self-direction in more impoverished environments.
In addition, although the current test of the relationship between less-structured time and self-directed EFs emerged from a targeted hypothesis, we conducted multiple post-hoc exploratory analyses to explore the relationship between specific activities and self-directed control, which are not ideal conditions for statistical inference.
Another limitation of the present study relates to our constructions of less-structured and structured time, which are imprecise, and most likely fail to capture important differences across activities. The broad, standardized definitions of structured and less-structured time adopted in this study e. In the present study, trips to museums, libraries, and sporting events are each classified as less-structured, but may vary in relative structure.
That is, a typical library visit, where children may select their own sections to browse and books to check out, may involve much less structure and more self-directed time than a typical sporting event, where attention is largely directed toward the action on the field or court. Even those activities that seem less-structured by definition, such as free play, can quickly become more structured when adults, older siblings, or peers impose additional rules or criteria. Indeed, many programmatic interventions have highlighted the importance of some structure to improve the quality of children's play and other learning experiences, and produce benefits Schweinhart et al.
We note however, that even though our classification system based on the existing literature does not capture these variations in exactly how structured various activities are, our primary finding of the relationship between less-structured time and self-directed EF holds across analyses dropping potentially more difficult-to-interpret classifications e. To generate a more precise estimate of the amount of time children spend pursuing activities in a self-directed way, one would ideally assess child time directly, possibly by supplementing parent-reported child time use data with direct observation.
One possibility along these lines could be to employ experience sampling techniques Miller, , where parents are frequently queried via cell phone or another mobile device throughout the day and asked to provide specific detail about their child's activities in the moment. Such methods would also minimize the need to rely on a parent's memory for their child's daily activities and experiences. We view our work as providing an important starting point for this kind of more time-intensive study of children's time outside of formal schooling and its relationship to their self-directed EF.
In addition, although we have identified links between child time use and self-directed EF, we are unable to draw firm conclusions about whether the observed relationships were driven by activities occurring in the week preceding the test session as has been observed in other domains, e. This finding could reflect the importance of the combination of recent and distal experiences, or simply the greater robustness of using a composite measure.
Therefore, while we have posited that less-structured experiences allow children to practice self-directed, goal-oriented behavior, producing benefits over time, we cannot discount the possibility that observed linkages may have been driven by recent experiences which increased self-directed behavior. In either scenario, regular participation in less-structured activities would yield benefits.
Future investigations of the relationship between self-directed control and less-structured time would also benefit from the inclusion of additional measures of self-directed control, which more closely approximate real-world child behaviors. This process may benefit from the development and validation of new measures of self-directed control in children. Establishing effects using tasks tapping other forms of self-direction would also ensure generalizability. For instance, in the present study, time in less-structured activities such as family outings may have benefitted verbal fluency performance in a specific way, by fostering the development of more well-organized semantic networks, rather than by more generally improving children's abilities to generate their own rules for how and when to employ EFs to achieve their goals.
This alternative account cannot explain the full pattern of results in the link between less-structured time and self-directed EF e. The findings of the current study are consistent with previous research in showing a link between children's experiences and EF Lillard and Else-quest, ; Diamond et al.
However, while the current study found specific effects of time use on self-directed but not externally-driven EF, previous research found effects of training and preschool interventions on externally-driven EF e. There are several possible reasons for this discrepancy. First, previous training studies that have shown benefits for externally-driven EF have specifically trained children on aspects of externally-driven EF e. Likewise, while preschool and other interventions include a wide variety of experiences, they likely include considerable practice with externally-driven EF.
In contrast, we hypothesize that less-structured time primarily affords children practice with self-directed EF, and thus may not transfer to improving externally-driven EF. Second, it is possible that differences between the current versus previous studies could be accounted for by differences between the externally-driven EF tasks they employed. Many previous studies that have found effects of interventions on externally-driven EF used task-switching or working memory span tasks e.
It may be that specific aspects of externally-driven EF are more sensitive to children's experiences, or that specific tasks are more sensitive to individual differences in general due to better psychometric properties Future research using a more comprehensive battery of EF tasks could address these possibilities. Another key difference between our study and such prior research is the correlational nature of our study, which supports at least two alternatives to the interpretation that how children spend their leisure time shapes their EF. First, children with better self-directed EFs may engage in or be encouraged to engage in less-structured activities more often.
Likewise, children with poorer self-directed control may be more likely to engage in structured activities. Alternatively, the observed relationship between less-structured time and self-directed control may be driven by a third, unmeasured variable. Although we have attempted to control for some characteristics that might influence both time spent in less-structured activities and verbal fluency, such as household income, we have not controlled for other possibilities, such as parent EF and child's fluid intelligence which we did not assess. However, we did control for child vocabulary an index of crystallized intelligence , which may serve as a proxy for fluid intelligence in testing relationships with EF, given that EF fully mediates the correlation between crystallized and fluid intelligence in 7-years-old Brydges et al.
Moreover, such factors might be expected to predict both children's self-directed EF and their externally-driven EF Ardila et al. Similar issues have been raised in interpreting links observed between children's EF and pretend play: rather than reflecting a uniquely causal role for pretend play in EF, EF may instead play a causal role in supporting pretend play, or pretend play may be one of many activities promoting EF development in young children Lillard et al. An important direction for future work lies in establishing the directionality of relationships between child time use and self-directed EF, through experimental manipulation.
Longitudinal studies could provide the first step toward establishing directionality. Specifically, if time spent in less-structured activities prospectively predicts change in self-directed EF, this would suggest that less-structured time may play a causal role in the development of self-directed EF. If, on the other hand, self-directed EF prospectively predicts changes in the amount of time children spend in less-structured activities, this would suggest that self-directed EF may play a causal role in children's time use e. While such longitudinal studies could thus provide important information about temporal precedence, this information is not sufficient evidence of causality e.
Thus, future research using experimental manipulations of time spent in less-structured activities is necessary to definitively test causality.
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Although this kind of work is ambitious, and poses challenges, it could be used to inform more targeted laboratory-based training studies. Finally, we hope that future explorations of the relationship between child time use and developing self-directed EFs will inform a wider question: specifically, whether societal shifts in child time use over the past 50 years have influenced development.
Hours formerly devoted to less-structured, social play have been replaced by media time Vandewater et al. Some commentators have warned that these changes have been to the detriment of children e. Others have argued that children benefit more from regular skill practice in structured settings e. Our findings indicate that during children's time outside of formal schooling, participation in less structured activities may benefit the development of self-directed EFs, while participation in structured activities may hinder the development of self-directed EFs.
Thorough testing of this hypothesis remains an important direction for future work. Jane E. Barker, Andrei D. Semenov, and Yuko Munakata contributed to the development of the study hypothesis. All authors contributed to study design. Barker performed the data analysis and drafted the manuscript with input from Yuko Munakata. Critical revisions were contributed by Hannah R.
Snyder, Laura Michaelson, and Yuko Munakata. All authors discussed the results, implications, and literature, and approved the final version of the manuscript for submission. The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest. The authors wish to thank Julia Stadele for her assistance in coding verbal fluency data and coordinating research subjects, Joe Brill for his assistance in coding time diary data, and Ryan Guild for his helpful comments on manuscript revisions.
Our definition of structured activities is also consistent with past studies of structured leisure time, which have excluded time spent in school e. However, we have classified reading and television as less-structured time, and studying as structured time, in keeping with other studies e.
For example, if parents who left fewer cells blank in the time use survey had children with higher self-directed EF, this could have contributed to the observed correlation between less-structured time and self-directed EF, since parents who left fewer cells blank might report more time in less-structured activities. However, this interpretation rests on the validity and sensitivity of the typicality measure, which is unknown.
Parent-reported typicality is at least internally consistent with parent-reported time use. The Flanker task can be sensitive to minor variations in stimulus parameters Paquet, and intervention dosage in adults Liu-Ambrose et al. Failures to find effects of interventions have also been attributed in part to the task's sensitivity to practice effects in pre-post measure designs as discussed in Rueda et al.
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Structured leisure activities in middle childhood: links to well-being. Community Psychol. Forstmann, B. Internally generated and directly cued task sets: an investigation with fMRI. Overview Readers reviews 0 Product Details. Your rating Click on the stars for rating. Your review Headline characters remaining Review characters remaining.
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