Executive functions are a set of high-level cognitive processes that enable us to perform complex tasks and activities, or solve problems.

Executive functions also enable us to automate certain tasks. This automation enables our brains to focus their attention on the more complicated elements, without making an effort for the simpler ones.

These skills are considered by experts to be the biological foundations of learning.

What is an executive function?

Executive functions are the mental mechanisms that enable us to control our thoughts, actions and emotions.

They enable us to function, to carry out in the world what our intelligence commands. Indeed, when we have a good memory, self-control and flexibility, we can act successfully.

When we have to solve a task or a problem, we use our executive functions. Our brain is capable of taking in all the information in the environment, and all the information already in our possession. Then, it elaborates this information to find the best strategy and implement the chosen strategy.

In addition, we can perform automatic activities. This allows our brain to use its attentional resources on other elements. For example, learning to ride a bike may take time, but once we’ve learned, we do it without thinking about it. While cycling, we don’t concentrate on how to move our legs or keep our balance, but only on the environment and the road.

Executive function disorders

Executive dysfunction occurs when it is difficult or impossible to filter stimuli from the environment. These disorders may be linked to pathologies or to cranial trauma.

The quality of life of a person with executive function disorders is greatly affected by these difficulties. The disorders may affect the cognitive functions or behavior of the person, who may have difficulty adapting to new situations.

Symptoms may include an inability to plan a strategy or organize steps to follow. Another difficulty is related to memory, which can manifest itself as forgetting the steps to follow or an inability to elaborate information in the immediate future. Finally, we can see that a person is mentally inflexible, which means they have difficulty changing their reasoning, looking for other solutions or correcting themselves.

Behaviorally, the disorder manifests itself as motor agitation and verbal or motor impulsivity.


Exercises to improve executive functions

There are a number of activities to train cognitive functions. You can play puzzles or logic games (crosswords, sudoku, etc.). These activities enable you to look for strategies, plan actions in a logical order or adapt to feedback.

Card games are very useful, as you need to remember information at a glance, such as which cards have already been dealt during the game.

1,2,3 Statue

In this game, the child must move to the music and stop when the music stops.

He must therefore pay attention to the auditory stimulus and adapt his movement to it.


Our games to train executive functions

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  • The musical ear
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  • The musical ear
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  • The musical ear
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In general, we can say that executive functions are based on 4 concepts:


1. Mental flexibility

This function defines the ability to change task or mental strategy, and to switch from one cognitive operation to another.

Before an activity, we think about the best solution to implement, but during the activity we may need to change strategy. We adapt our behavior according to the feedback we receive or the new elements that may come into play.

This skill enables us to adapt, not to remain focused solely on one solution, but to analyze several possibilities.



In this game, the player combines syllables to create words.

You have to think of all the possible combinations, and therefore change the syllables to be used several times. There are several possible strategies that can be changed during the game.


2. Managing thoughts and emotionsThanks to our autobiographical memory, we can recreate the context in which an event took place.

Creating a context helps us to have more coherent and accurate memories. Creating an environmental context also increases the amount of information linked to an event, enabling us to retrieve other memories and information.

Mamie Cuisine


In this game, you have to memorize the ingredients of a recipe.

You have to manage your thoughts carefully, because you have to think about the ingredients proposed, bearing in mind that you may know a variation of this recipe with other ingredients. You have to select which thought you want to follow.


What’s more, a recipe can bring back memories that we’ll feel with more or less strong emotions.


3. Inhibition

Inhibition refers to a series of mechanisms that enable us to suppress inappropriate actions and resist interference from irrelevant information. It is an automatic sorting out of information that could hinder the success of our action.

Neuropsychologists Degiorgio C. Fery P. Polus B. Watelet A. tell us more about executive functions.

Inhibition enables us to avoid actions or instinctive behaviors that would be out of place in a given context.

Mole invasion


In this game, the player must tap the moles that appear on the screen.

During the game, different types of mole may appear: the normal mole to tap once, the mole with the helmet to tap twice and the mole with the glasses not to touch.


As well as being attentive to the appearance of the stimulus, the person must also recognize the type of stimulus and act accordingly. We therefore need to perform different actions with the two tapping moles, but we need to inhibit our action with the spyglass mole.


4. Problem solving

As we’ve seen, the executive functions come into play to find the solution to the problem, and this is called problem solving.

Indeed, when faced with a problem, executive functions enable us to gather all the information we need, and put it all together to find the right solution. Often, there are several possible solutions, but thanks to cognitive functions, we can find the quickest and most effective solution.

Crowded parking lot


In this game, you have to move the cars to get the yellow car out of the parking lot.

You have to think of all the possible combinations, imagine the effects of a move and therefore create a mental image of the sequence of movements to be made. Each game has a different starting situation, so you have to adapt to the elements presented.


Do you want to improve your executive functions?

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A version for children aged 5 to 10

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