Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Marie Coppola; Heather Bortfeld

Field of Study



Master of Arts

Open Access

Open Access


Cognitive control is a central issue in developmental psychology. Traditional theories of psychology solve this problem by positing a top-down central executive, which coordinates cognitive resources in pursuit of goals. We propose an alternative explanation: cognitive control arises from physical interactions across many different timescales within the system. College and preschool aged participants were asked to complete a simple executive function task, card sorting. We found that multi-scale physical interactions differed depending on experimental constraints, and that executive function in these cases was driven primarily by flexibility in multi-scale interactions, rather than the dominance of one scale. This suggests that, rather than being the workings of a higher order central executive, cognitive control may be driven by physical interactions within the system.

Major Advisor

James Dixon