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Psychological Science
2019 Project Proposal

Executive Functions in Urban Youth

Nicholas de Leeuw (Psychological Science)

Executive functions are basic mental processes involved in goal-directed cognitive and social tasks. They include working memory, inhibitory control, flexible thinking and perspective taking. Strong executive functioning is said to be a key factor in academic and social success. One way of measuring the success of programs aimed at young children, then, would be to measure their impact on executive functions.

A 2018 URSI project developed a set of measures that are portable and easy to administer. The goal of this year’s project is to employ those measures in various settings, including a downtown Poughkeepsie summer day camp (REAL skills) and the Wimpfheimer Nursery School at Vassar. In order to gain the trust of potential participants and their families, the fellow will be embedded in the youth program prior to and during training and testing.

This project will also involve collaboration with a Ford project directed by Julie Riess, which is part of an initiative to expand access to high quality child care in the city of Poughkeepsie. The URSI fellow will work with the Ford scholar to understand existing programs, such as Head Start, with a particular focus on direct and indirect measures of executive functions.

Interested students should have some background in developmental psychology (e.g. Psych 231, 239 and/or a relevant 108 course). They should also have coursework in statistics (AP stats, Psych 200 or another statistics course). Experience in working with children in a formal setting will be very helpful.

How should students express interest in this project?
Interested students should email me ( with a short statement about their interest in the project. I will be looking for a student who is comfortable working with elementary-age children in a low-income urban setting.