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Alerting, Orienting, and Executive Attention: Developmental Properties and Sociodemographic Correlates in an Epidemiological Sample of Young, Urban Children


  • This research was supported by Grant K08 MH 01703 from the National Institute of Mental Health. The author wishes to acknowledge the contributions to the design, implementation, and reporting of this study made by Felton Earls and Michael Posner as research mentors, Jin Fan and Dan Kindlon as methodological consultants, Nelly Coleman and Shawn Early for data collection, and Deborah Waber and three anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful reading and critiques of earlier versions of this manuscript.

concerning this article should be addressed to Enrico Mezzacappa, Psychiatry Research, PV-156, The Children's Hospital, 300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115. Electronic mail may be sent to


A computerized test of preparedness for effortful processing (alerting attention), response to orienting cues (orienting attention), and response to the interference of competing demands (executive attention) was administered to a diverse sample of 249 children (47% female, 4.96 to 7.27 years) to assess developmental properties and sociodemographic correlates of task performance. Older children and socially advantaged children demonstrated greater proficiency in overall accuracy and speed of responding. Boys and socially advantaged children improved more in response to alerting cues. Older children improved more in response to orienting cues. Older children, socially advantaged children, African American, and Hispanic children resisted the interference of competing demands better. Findings are discussed in the context of developmental and sociodemographic factors relevant to attention and executive functions.

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