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    Multilevel goal management in toddlers’ and preschoolers’ action sequence planning and execution

    Schröer, Lisanne (2022) Multilevel goal management in toddlers’ and preschoolers’ action sequence planning and execution. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

    PhDThesisFinal_LisanneSchroer_March2022.pdf - Full Version

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    Action planning is the foundation of everyday behaviour, allowing us to interact with the world. Even infants are able to plan simple one or two steps actions. However, in daily life, adults plan, execute and control complex action sequences, often following multiple levels goals or multiple constraints. For example, even something as simple as making a cup of coffee in the morning involves following a goal hierarchy with a key goal, multiple subgoals and action steps. The actor has to keep track of the key goal of making a cup of coffee throughout the task, while maintaining which of the subgoals and action steps has already been executed and which should be executed next. While previous studies suggest that the ability to plan and execute action sequences develops over the preschool years (Freier et al., 2017; Yanaoka & Saito, 2017; 2019), the exact underlying development mechanisms remain unclear. It has been suggested that both executive function improvements and motor competence could be related to development of action sequence planning and execution. The aim of this thesis is to understand action sequence development by using ecologically valid paradigms to investigate children’s action sequence planning using wearable equipment allowing toddlers and children to act like they would in everyday life. Chapter 2 shows that the ability to plan simple alternating sequences and action sequences with goal constraints improves over toddlerhood and that it is related to working memory. Next, Chapter 3 and 4 shows that the hierarchical action sequence planning of a Duplo house improved over the preschool period. Furthermore, this ability is related to updating and inhibition skills. Motion capture reveals that good planners shows relative freezing of their non-reaching hand when executing a subgoal, suggesting a greater cognitive focus while executing that subgoal. Chapter 4 uses fNIRS to show that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is more active at decision branch points (when a switch from one subgoal to another has to be made), but only in older children. This suggests that changes in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex might be involved in the development of action sequence control in the preschool period. Lastly, in Chapter 5, modelling is used to explore the novel hypothesis that action sequence development might be related to immature action selection functionality in the basal ganglia. However, the modelling results shows that, while the action selection functionality of the basal ganglia might play some role in development role, changes in goal representations and/or action planning improvements in the prefrontal cortex are the main driver of goal-directed action sequence development in preschool years. Together, these chapters enrich our understanding of the development of planning, selection, and control of action sequences, and their underlying and neural mechanisms in toddlerhood and the preschool period in naturalistic settings.


    Item Type: Thesis
    Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
    Depositing User: Acquisitions And Metadata
    Date Deposited: 03 May 2022 14:23
    Last Modified: 01 Nov 2023 15:30


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