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Bijoyprakash Majhi(108ee040)

Executive Function
Executive function is a term used to describe the many tasks our brains perform that are necessary to think, act, and solve problems. Executive functioning includes tasks that help us learn new information, remember and retrieve information weve learned in the past, and use this information to solve problems of everyday life. Specifically executive functioning refers to the role of the brains frontal lobes in:

organizing, developing initiatives, controlling impulses, making appropriate decisions, learning from mistakes, monitoring and changing behavior as needed, planning future behavior when faced with novel tasks and situations, initiating and stopping actions, assessing risks, and adapting to changing situations.

The term executive function comes from the business world where the top executive organizes, decides, adjusts, and supervises the activities of the business. As the name implies, executive functions are high-level abilities that influence more basic abilities like attention, memory, and motor skills. Executive functions allow people to figure out the task demanded through trial and error, and change

strategies as needed. The abilities to form concepts and think abstractly are considered components of executive function. Executive function deficits are associated with a number of psychiatric and developmental disorders, including but not limited to obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourettes syndrome, depression, conduct disorder, anxiety, oppositional defiant disorder, schizophrenia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, Aspergers syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome and pre-natal drug exposure. Chronic heavy substance users show impairments on tests of executive function. Some of these deficits appear to result from heavy substance use, but there is also evidence suggesting that problems with executive functions may contribute to the development of substance use disorders.

making plans, keeping track of time, keeping track of more than one thing at a time, engaging in group dynamics, evaluating ideas, reflecting on work, organizing work planning and finishing work on time, asking for help when needed, making mid-course corrections while thinking, reading and writing, figuring out the amount of time needed to complete a project, finishing work on time, waiting to speak until called on,

seeking information when needed, communicating details in an organized, sequential manner, with important details and minimal irrelevant details,

initiating activities or tasks, or generating ideas independently, retaining information while doing something with it.

Set-shifting: A Specific Application of Executive Function


One commonly reported difficulty in psychiatric populations involves set-shifting, the above mentioned process of moving attentional focus between internal objects (Gehring et al., 2003; Garavan, 1998). This may underlie the tendency to ruminate, a symptom commonly reported among psychiatric populations (Treynor et al., 2003). While recent research has suggested that rumination may in fact have adaptive as well as maladaptive aspects, and could represent a method of coping with negative mood (Treynor et al., 2003; Wells & Matthews, 1994), it is often focused on negative affect and seemingly beyond the consciousness control of those who experience it. It thus may represent a failure of executive function. Research into set-shifting has historically employed Card-Sorting (Moritz et al., 2002; Davis & Nolen-Hoeksema, 2000), Trail-Making (Paradisio, Lamberty, Garvey & Robinson, 1997), dichotic listening (Hughdahl et al., 2003), Stroop (Schatzberg et al., 2000) and Dot-Probe (Bradley, Mogg & Lee, 1997) tasks. These, however, have only managed to assess the external domain, in the sense that they examine the capacity of individuals to shift the focus of their attention between various external stimuli.

The above mentioned research by Garavan (1998) and Gehring and colleagues (2003) expanded this line of investigation to incorporate the internal domain. They found evidence of switching effects, suggesting that executive function is a limited capacity system also when focusing on internal representations. Research by Murphy and colleagues (1999) has further suggested that this switching effect becomes even more pronounced when it includes affective material. In this study, which utilised a go/no-go task designed to assay internal attentional-shifting, manic and depressed patients responded to target words of either positive or negative affective tone while inhibiting responses to words from the other affective category. Both groups demonstrated response biases for emotional stimuli: depressed patients for "sad" words, and manic patients for "happy" words. This suggests that emotive or personally-relevant information may pose an increased challenge to attentional control, presumably because it initiates processing at a deeper semantic level. From this perspective, rumination, worry, and related phenomena may reflect a particular difficulty with set-shifting in the internal domain of executive function. This may reflect a disorder of executive function fundamentally different to those that pertain to the external domain, such as attention-deficit disorder. The former arguably represent a self-focus, while the latter reflect an environmental one. Rumination, depression and anxiety may all be related to dysfunction in this internal domain. This is in fact supported by evidence which links these disorders to high levels of self-consciousness (Brown & Ryan, 2003; Treynor et al., 2003).