138| Executive Functions in the Developing Brain – A Conversation With Dr. Adele Diamond

This episode is a discussion with Dr. Adele Diamond about executive functions (EFs), with a focus on children and the developing brain. The conversation covers a wide range of topics, including models of EFs, three core EFs (inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility), the differential development of EF components during childhood, the ability of early EFs to predict later life outcomes, relationships between EFs and fluid intelligence, assessment of EFs, task impurity, and interventions to improve EFs in children.

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About Adele

Dr. Adele Diamond is the Canada Research Chair Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience at University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. A leader in two fields, psychology and neuroscience, Adele cofounded the flourishing interdisciplinary field of “developmental cognitive neuroscience.”

Her specialty is the rigorous study of executive functions (EFs) especially in children. She’s been doing that for over 40 years. EFs include focused attention, creative problem-solving, self-control, and working memory. Adele studies how EFs are affected by biological factors (such as genes and neurochemistry) and by environmental ones (e.g., impaired by stress or improved by interventions).

Her work has consistently been marked by innovation and crossing disciplinary boundaries.  Her discoveries have thrice changed international medical guidelines for the treatment of diseases and have had a significant impact on educational practice worldwide, improving millions of children’s lives.

Adele is a member of the Royal Society of Canada, was named one of the “2000 Outstanding Women of the 20th Century,” and was listed as one of the 15 most influential neuroscientists alive today.  Her other awards include an Award for Lifetime Contributions to Developmental Psychology in the Service of Science and Society plus two honorary degrees.  She has given roughly 600 invited addresses in over 40 countries across 6 continents, including at the White House and to the Dalai Lama.

Adele was educated at Swarthmore College (BA, Phi Beta Kappa, in Sociology-Anthropology and Psychology), Harvard University (PhD in Developmental Psychology), and Yale Medical School (Postdoctoral Fellow in Neuroscience).


Casey, B. (2023, August). Executive functions in the brain, development and social context: Early contributions by neuroscientist, Adele Diamond. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 62, 101272. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2023.101272

DelRosso, L. M., Vega-Flores, G., Ferri, R., Mogavero, M. P., & Diamond, A. (2022, September 24). Assessment of Executive and Cognitive Functions in Children with Restless Sleep Disorder: A Pilot Study. Brain Sciences, 12(10), 1289. https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci12101289

Diamond A. (2015). Effects of Physical Exercise on Executive Functions: Going beyond Simply Moving to Moving with Thought. Annals of sports medicine and research, 2(1), 1011.

Diamond A. (2016). Developing & Supporting “Executive Function.” The World Ensemble, (3), https://www.devcogneuro.com/Publications/The-World-Ensemble.Issue3_2016_correct.pdf

Diamond, A. (2020). Executive functions. Handbook of Clinical Neurology, 225–240. https://doi.org/10.1016/b978-0-444-64150-2.00020-4

Diamond, A. (2013, January 3). Executive Functions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64(1), 135–168. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-113011-143750

Diamond, A. (2023, December 15). How to Sharpen Executive Functions: Activities to Hone Brain Skills. ADDitude. Retrieved January 9, 2024, from https://www.additudemag.com/how-to-improve-executive-function-adhd/

Diamond, A., Lee, C., Senften, P., Lam, A., & Abbott, D. (2019, September 17). Randomized control trial of Tools of the Mind: Marked benefits to kindergarten children and their teachers. PLOS ONE, 14(9), e0222447. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0222447

Diamond, A., & Ling, D. S. (2016, April). Conclusions about interventions, programs, and approaches for improving executive functions that appear justified and those that, despite much hype, do not. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 18, 34–48. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2015.11.005

Diamond, A., & Ling, D. S. (2019, June). Aerobic-Exercise and resistance-training interventions have been among the least effective ways to improve executive functions of any method tried thus far. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 37, 100572. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2018.05.001

Diamond, A. (2013, September 24). Want to Optimize Executive Functions and Academic Outcomes? Simple, Just Nourish the Human Spirit. In Zelazo, P. D., & Sera, M. D. (Eds.) Minnesota Symposia on Child Psychology, Volume 37. John Wiley & Sons. http://books.google.ie/books?id=pXIBAQAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=9780470422748&hl=&cd=1&source=gbs_api

Diamond, A. (2016). Why improving and assessing executive functions early in life is critical. In J. A. Griffin, P. McCardle, & L. S. Freund (Eds.), Executive function in preschool-age children: Integrating measurement, neurodevelopment, and translational research (pp. 11–43). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/14797-002

Fernandes, V. R., Scipião Ribeiro, M. L., Araújo, N. B., Mota, N. B., Ribeiro, S., Diamond, A., & Deslandes, A. C. (2022, March). Effects of Capoeira on children’s executive functions: A randomized controlled trial. Mental Health and Physical Activity, 22, 100451. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mhpa.2022.100451

Hogan, J., Cordes, S., Holochwost, S., Ryu, E., Diamond, A., & Winner, E. (2018). Is more time in general music class associated with stronger extra-musical outcomes in kindergarten? Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 45, 238–248. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2017.12.004

Ling, D. S., Kelly, M., & Diamond, A. (2016). Human-animal interaction and the development of executive functions. The Social Neuroscience of Human-Animal Interaction., 51–72. https://doi.org/10.1037/14856-004

Ling, D. S., Wong, C. D., & Diamond, A. (2021, January 6). Children Only 3 Years Old Can Succeed at Conditional “If, Then” Reasoning, Much Earlier Than Anyone Had Thought Possible. Frontiers in Psychology, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.571891

Neuenschwander, R., Hookenson, K., Brain, U., Grunau, R. E., Devlin, A. M., Weinberg, J., Diamond, A., & Oberlander, T. F. (2018, August). Children’s stress regulation mediates the association between prenatal maternal mood and child executive functions for boys, but not girls. Development and Psychopathology, 30(3), 953–969. https://doi.org/10.1017/s095457941800041x

Novick, J. M., Bunting, M. F., Engle, R. W., & Dougherty, M. R. (2019, December 1). Cognitive and Working Memory Training. Oxford University Press, USA. http://books.google.ie/books?id=NBS9DwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=Cognitive+and+Working+Memory+Training&hl=&cd=1&source=gbs_api

Park, M., Brain, U., Grunau, R. E., Diamond, A., & Oberlander, T. F. (2018, January 16). Maternal depression trajectories from pregnancy to 3 years postpartum are associated with children’s behavior and executive functions at 3 and 6 years. Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 21(3), 353–363. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00737-017-0803-0

Singh, A. S., Saliasi, E., van den Berg, V., Uijtdewilligen, L., de Groot, R. H. M., Jolles, J., Andersen, L. B., Bailey, R., Chang, Y. K., Diamond, A., Ericsson, I., Etnier, J. L., Fedewa, A. L., Hillman, C. H., McMorris, T., Pesce, C., Pühse, U., Tomporowski, P. D., & Chinapaw, M. J. M. (2018, July 30). Effects of physical activity interventions on cognitive and academic performance in children and adolescents: a novel combination of a systematic review and recommendations from an expert panel. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 53(10), 640–647. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2017-098136