Abstract

Objective: The authors hypothesized that interventions employing or targeting a variety of executive functions (EFs) to address externalizing behavior would be more effective than “business as usual.” Selected empirical studies address the question, “To what degree are interventions targeting EFs effective in reducing externalizing behavior in the classroom?” Data Selection: Two database searches were conducted, using PsycINFO and Google Scholar. Key search terms included “intervention, ” “executive function, ” “self-regulation, ” “externalizing, ” “behavior, ” “working memory, ” “education or classroom,” and combinations of these terms. The following inclusion criteria were used: peer-reviewed, empirical studies published in 2007 or later, subjects ages 3 to 12 years, utilized a set curriculum that targeted or provided instruction in “executive functions, ” “self-regulation, ” “inhibition, ” “working memory, ” “cognitive strategies, ” or “problem solving.” Pre- and post-assessment of targeted social-emotional behavior/competence, conduct problems, aggression, and/or hyperactivity/impulsivity was required. Data analysis included seven studies that met the inclusion criteria. Data Synthesis: Interventions utilizing/ targeting EFs to improve externalizing behavior(s) were variably effective. Effects were largest in preschool (Pre-Kindergarten) settings. Differential effects of interventions were found for specific subjects with increased effectiveness in students of all ages with lowest pre-intervention performance. Conclusion(s): Effective interventions included ecologically-valid presentation and/or instruction. Effective lessons provided both cognitive and behavioral components (e.g., think and do), limited EF components addressed to one sub-domain, were implemented by the teacher, and provided ongoing support and feedback regarding the implementation. Future research in EF interventions is needed with middle and high school student populations.