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Rev Neurol. 2009 Apr 16-30;48(8):435-40.

[Maturation of the prefrontal cortex and development of the executive functions during the first five years of life].

[Article in Spanish]

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Institut Universitari de Neurorehabilitació Guttmann-UAB, Badalona, Barcelona, España.



The first five years of life are critical in the development of the executive functions. The changes that are seen to take place in executive competence and capacity are closely related to the maturational processes of the prefrontal cortex.


Evidence gathered over the past three decades indicates that executive functioning begins to develop earlier than was previously believed. At early ages it is possible to observe the appearance of different cognitive capacities that will later make up what we call the executive functions. The purpose of this article is to describe how the executive functions develop over the first five years of life and their relationship with the maturation of the prefrontal cortex.


The development of the executive functions involves the development of a series of cognitive capacities that have to enable the child to retain and manipulate information and to act accordingly; to self-regulate their behaviour so that they can act in a reflexive rather than impulsive manner; and to adapt their behaviour to fit the changes that can occur in the surroundings. Early upsets in executive development have a drastic restricting effect on the child's capacity to cope with novel situations, as well as to have the flexibility required to adapt to changes with ease.

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