A comparison of performance on the Towers of London and Hanoi in young children

Rebecca Bull, Kimberly Andrews Espy, Theresa E. Senn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

91 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Background: The Towers of London (TOL) and Hanoi (TOH) have been viewed as equivalent measures of planning and/or problem solving, although recent evidence in adults suggests that the underlying measurement characteristics of these two tasks may differ. As tower tasks are one of the few instruments that can be used to assess executive functioning in young children, the cognitive demands for both tasks merit further examination. Methods: The relation among tower tasks and those of short-term memory, inhibition, and shifting ability were examined in a sample of 118 typically developing young children (M age = 4 years, 9 months, SD = 6 months). Half the children completed TOL and half completed TOH, with groups matched with respect to age, sex, and child vocabulary. Results: Whilst performance on a shifting task uniquely predicted TOH performance, none of the executive function measures were related to TOL performance after statistically controlling for the influence of baseline naming speed. For both tower tasks, performance on a shifting task contributed more strongly on complex trials that required more moves in the counter-intuitive direction relative to the end-state goal, whereas inhibition task performance only predicted performance on complex TOL trials. Conclusions: Successful tower task performance may be determined, at least at higher levels of complexity, by mental flexibility in this age range. However, overall the findings suggest that TOL and TOH are not interchangeable tasks even in young children, and more generally, raise methodological issues regarding the complex nature of executive function tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)743-754
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
Volume45
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2004
Externally publishedYes

Fingerprint

Task Performance and Analysis
Executive Function
Aptitude
Vocabulary
Short-Term Memory
Research Design
Inhibition (Psychology)

Keywords

  • Children
  • Executive functions
  • Inhibition
  • Shifting
  • Short-term memory
  • Tower tasks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

Cite this

A comparison of performance on the Towers of London and Hanoi in young children. / Bull, Rebecca; Espy, Kimberly Andrews; Senn, Theresa E.

In: Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, Vol. 45, No. 4, 05.2004, p. 743-754.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

@article{f23f5794700f497282105b3d59fe160f,
title = "A comparison of performance on the Towers of London and Hanoi in young children",
abstract = "Background: The Towers of London (TOL) and Hanoi (TOH) have been viewed as equivalent measures of planning and/or problem solving, although recent evidence in adults suggests that the underlying measurement characteristics of these two tasks may differ. As tower tasks are one of the few instruments that can be used to assess executive functioning in young children, the cognitive demands for both tasks merit further examination. Methods: The relation among tower tasks and those of short-term memory, inhibition, and shifting ability were examined in a sample of 118 typically developing young children (M age = 4 years, 9 months, SD = 6 months). Half the children completed TOL and half completed TOH, with groups matched with respect to age, sex, and child vocabulary. Results: Whilst performance on a shifting task uniquely predicted TOH performance, none of the executive function measures were related to TOL performance after statistically controlling for the influence of baseline naming speed. For both tower tasks, performance on a shifting task contributed more strongly on complex trials that required more moves in the counter-intuitive direction relative to the end-state goal, whereas inhibition task performance only predicted performance on complex TOL trials. Conclusions: Successful tower task performance may be determined, at least at higher levels of complexity, by mental flexibility in this age range. However, overall the findings suggest that TOL and TOH are not interchangeable tasks even in young children, and more generally, raise methodological issues regarding the complex nature of executive function tasks.",
keywords = "Children, Executive functions, Inhibition, Shifting, Short-term memory, Tower tasks",
author = "Rebecca Bull and Espy, {Kimberly Andrews} and Senn, {Theresa E.}",
year = "2004",
month = "5",
doi = "10.1111/j.1469-7610.2004.00268.x",
language = "English (US)",
volume = "45",
pages = "743--754",
journal = "Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines",
issn = "0021-9630",
publisher = "Wiley-Blackwell",
number = "4",

}

TY - JOUR

T1 - A comparison of performance on the Towers of London and Hanoi in young children

AU - Bull, Rebecca

AU - Espy, Kimberly Andrews

AU - Senn, Theresa E.

PY - 2004/5

Y1 - 2004/5

N2 - Background: The Towers of London (TOL) and Hanoi (TOH) have been viewed as equivalent measures of planning and/or problem solving, although recent evidence in adults suggests that the underlying measurement characteristics of these two tasks may differ. As tower tasks are one of the few instruments that can be used to assess executive functioning in young children, the cognitive demands for both tasks merit further examination. Methods: The relation among tower tasks and those of short-term memory, inhibition, and shifting ability were examined in a sample of 118 typically developing young children (M age = 4 years, 9 months, SD = 6 months). Half the children completed TOL and half completed TOH, with groups matched with respect to age, sex, and child vocabulary. Results: Whilst performance on a shifting task uniquely predicted TOH performance, none of the executive function measures were related to TOL performance after statistically controlling for the influence of baseline naming speed. For both tower tasks, performance on a shifting task contributed more strongly on complex trials that required more moves in the counter-intuitive direction relative to the end-state goal, whereas inhibition task performance only predicted performance on complex TOL trials. Conclusions: Successful tower task performance may be determined, at least at higher levels of complexity, by mental flexibility in this age range. However, overall the findings suggest that TOL and TOH are not interchangeable tasks even in young children, and more generally, raise methodological issues regarding the complex nature of executive function tasks.

AB - Background: The Towers of London (TOL) and Hanoi (TOH) have been viewed as equivalent measures of planning and/or problem solving, although recent evidence in adults suggests that the underlying measurement characteristics of these two tasks may differ. As tower tasks are one of the few instruments that can be used to assess executive functioning in young children, the cognitive demands for both tasks merit further examination. Methods: The relation among tower tasks and those of short-term memory, inhibition, and shifting ability were examined in a sample of 118 typically developing young children (M age = 4 years, 9 months, SD = 6 months). Half the children completed TOL and half completed TOH, with groups matched with respect to age, sex, and child vocabulary. Results: Whilst performance on a shifting task uniquely predicted TOH performance, none of the executive function measures were related to TOL performance after statistically controlling for the influence of baseline naming speed. For both tower tasks, performance on a shifting task contributed more strongly on complex trials that required more moves in the counter-intuitive direction relative to the end-state goal, whereas inhibition task performance only predicted performance on complex TOL trials. Conclusions: Successful tower task performance may be determined, at least at higher levels of complexity, by mental flexibility in this age range. However, overall the findings suggest that TOL and TOH are not interchangeable tasks even in young children, and more generally, raise methodological issues regarding the complex nature of executive function tasks.

KW - Children

KW - Executive functions

KW - Inhibition

KW - Shifting

KW - Short-term memory

KW - Tower tasks

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=2342426503&partnerID=8YFLogxK

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/citedby.url?scp=2342426503&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2004.00268.x

DO - 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2004.00268.x

M3 - Article

C2 - 15056306

AN - SCOPUS:2342426503

VL - 45

SP - 743

EP - 754

JO - Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines

JF - Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines

SN - 0021-9630

IS - 4

ER -