Summary
In cognitive science and neuropsychology, executive functions (collectively referred to as executive function and cognitive control) are a set of cognitive processes that are necessary for the cognitive control of behavior: selecting and successfully monitoring behaviors that facilitate the attainment of chosen goals. Executive functions include basic cognitive processes such as attentional control, cognitive inhibition, inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. Higher-order executive functions require the simultaneous use of multiple basic executive functions and include planning and fluid intelligence (e.g., reasoning and problem-solving). Executive functions gradually develop and change across the lifespan of an individual and can be improved at any time over the course of a person's life. Similarly, these cognitive processes can be adversely affected by a variety of events which affect an individual. Both neuropsychological tests (e.g., the Stroop test) and rating scales (e.g., the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function) are used to measure executive functions. They are usually performed as part of a more comprehensive assessment to diagnose neurological and psychiatric disorders. Cognitive control and stimulus control, which is associated with operant and classical conditioning, represent opposite processes (internal vs external or environmental, respectively) that compete over the control of an individual's elicited behaviors; in particular, inhibitory control is necessary for overriding stimulus-driven behavioral responses (stimulus control of behavior). The prefrontal cortex is necessary but not solely sufficient for executive functions; for example, the caudate nucleus and subthalamic nucleus also have a role in mediating inhibitory control. Cognitive control is impaired in addiction, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, and a number of other central nervous system disorders. Stimulus-driven behavioral responses that are associated with a particular rewarding stimulus tend to dominate one's behavior in an addiction.
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