The recruitment of shifting and inhibition in on-line science and mathematics tasks

Stella Vosniadou, Dimitrios Pnevmatikos, Nikos Makris, Despina Lepenioti, Kalliopi Eikospentaki, Anna Chountala, Giorgos Kyrianakis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Prior research has investigated the recruitment of inhibition in the use of science/mathematics concepts in tasks that require the rejection of a conflicting, nonscientific initial concept. The present research examines if inhibition is the only EF skill recruited in such tasks and investigates whether shifting is also involved. It also investigates whether inhibition and/or shifting are recruited in tasks in which the use of science/mathematics concepts does not require the rejection of an initial concept, or which require only the use of initial concepts. One hundred and thirty-three third- and fifth-grade children participated in two inhibition and shifting tasks and two science and mathematics conceptual understanding and conceptual change (CU&C) tasks. All the tasks were on-line, and performance was measured in accuracy and RTs. The CU&C tasks involved the use of initial concepts and of science/mathematics concepts which required conceptual changes for their initial formation. Only in one of the tasks the use of the science/mathematics concepts required the concurrent rejection of an initial concept. The results confirmed that in this task inhibition was recruited and also showed that the speed of shifting was a significant predictor of performance. Shifting was a significant predictor of performance in all the tasks, regardless of whether they involved science/mathematics or initial concepts. It is argued that shifting is likely to be recruited in complex tasks that require multiple comparisons of stimuli and the entertainment of different perspectives. Inhibition seems to be a more selective cognitive skill likely to be recruited when the use of science/mathematics concepts requires the rejection of a conflicting initial concept.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1860-1886
Number of pages27
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


  • Conceptual change
  • Executive function
  • Inhibitory control
  • Mathematics learning
  • Science learning


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