Activating adolescents’ “hot” executive functions in a digital game to train cognitive skills: The effects of age and prior abilities

Bruce D. Homer, Jan L. Plass, Maya C. Rose, Andrew P. MacNamara, Shashank Pawar, Teresa M. Ober

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Executive function (EF), critical for many developmental outcomes, emerge in childhood and continue developing into early adulthood (Blakemore & Choudhury, 2006). During adolescence there are important developments in Hot EF, which involves using EF in emotionally salient contexts (Zelazo & Carlson, 2012). The current study used an emotional design approach (Um et al., 2012) to study hot EF in adolescents playing a digital game designed to train the EF subskill of shifting. Participants (N = 233; aged 12–16, M = 13.8, SD = 1.1) played one of two version of the game: hot (with emotional design), or cool (with more emotionally neutral design). There was a main effect of condition, with higher posttest scores on shifting in the hot condition. Condition significantly interacted with age: older adolescents had better outcomes in the hot condition than in the cool condition. A three-way interaction between age, prior EF and condition was found, indicating that the age by condition interaction was affected by prior EF. These results indicate that the higher emotional arousal in the hot condition is more effective for enhancing EF skills, particularly for older adolescents, and argue for developing learning and training games that account for developmental changes such as the growth of hot EF in adolescence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20-32
Number of pages13
JournalCognitive Development
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019


  • Adolescents
  • Cool executive functions
  • Digital games
  • Emotional design
  • Executive functions
  • Hot executive functions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Activating adolescents’ “hot” executive functions in a digital game to train cognitive skills: The effects of age and prior abilities'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this