Zelazo et al. - Executive Functioning as Problem Solving

The Structure of Concern Project compares many theoretical models from many disciplines to the Adizes PAEI model, arguing that they must all be reflecting the same underlying phenomenon. One concern structure model is described below.

A number of childhood psychiatric and neurological disorders are held to impact or involve executive functioning in some way, but it has not been clear how. Zelazo and colleagues (1997) suggest that it has been difficult to characterize the impact of executive function on behavior because the concept of executive function itself is inadequately characterized. They suggest that a model of the temporal phases of problem solving can be used to organize and categorize executive function in a way that will be both clinically and theoretically illuminating.

The authors thus divide problem solving into four temporal phases: problem representation, planning, execution and evaluation. They assume an individual problem-solving model, so the Intergrating function is weakly represented in their schema. I present their categorization of executive function below in PAEI order, noting that this breaks the temporal order of the phases, which is important for the authors’ own work:

P – Execution: Requires maintaining focus on the goal for an adequate length of time (intending), and translating the plan into action (rule use). Attention control, volition, priority scheduling and tactical flexibility/shifting are all required for this.

A – Planning: Means-ends analysis, working memory, goal and subgoal setting, considering alternative courses of action, considering and evaluating outcomes and potential consequences of actions, estimating the reliability of resources and social support and managing resource scheduling and dependencies are all required.

E – Representation: Construction, reconstruction, reconfiguration, comparison and switching between different problem construals or problem-space representations is needed, involving attentional and representational set shifting, re-evaluation and re-prioritization, estimations of likelihood, perspective-taking and perspective shifting.

I – Evaluation: Determining that the desired outcome has occurred, detecting and correcting any errors if it has not, and revising earlier stages of problem solving for future attempts if necessary. This is not a conspicuously social activity (the entire planning cycle described here could be done either individually or collectively), but it is integrative. Also, according to the Dramatica model and many other theories of storytelling, one function of stories is to communicate the outcomes of complex problems and solutions along with the evaluations of the author or storyteller. Storytelling is very conspicuously social, and an integrator of human societies.

1. Zelazo, P. D., Carter, A., Resnick, J. S., & Frye, D. (1997). “Early Development of Executive Function: A Problem-Solving Framework.” Review of General Psychology, 1(2), 198-226.
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