Working memory, inhibitory control and the development of children's reasoning

Simon J. Handley*, A. Capon, M. Beveridge, I. Dennis, J. St B T Evans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

130 Citations (Scopus)


The ability to reason independently from one's own goals or beliefs has long been recognised as a key characteristic of the development of formal operational thought. In this article we present the results of a study that examined the correlates of this ability in a group of 10-year-old children (N = 61). Participants were presented with conditional and relational reasoning items, where the content was manipulated such that the conclusion to the arguments were either congruent, neutral, or incongruent with beliefs, and either logically valid or logically invalid. Participants also received a measure of working memory capacity (the counting span task) and a measure of inhibitory control (the stop signal task). Indices of belief bias and logical reasoning on belief-based problems were predicted independently by both measures. In contrast logical reasoning on belief neutral problems was predicted by working memory alone. The findings suggest that executive functions play a key role in the development of children's ability to decontextualise their thinking.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175-195
Number of pages21
JournalThinking and Reasoning
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2004
Externally publishedYes


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