Dr. Munakata's research investigates executive function and its development, with a focus on working memory, inhibition, and mechanisms of change. Children show remarkable limitations and developments in executive function over the first decade of life. For example, children reliably perseverate, repeating old behaviors that no longer make sense, even when they can correctly answer questions about what they are supposed to be doing. In contrast, adults can flexibly switch among an ever-growing number of multi-tasking options. To explain these and other aspects of executive function, Dr. Munakata has developed a unified framework that focuses on the role of developing prefrontal cortical regions in maintaining abstract information, such as goals. She has used this framework to understand important distinctions among aspects of executive function (e.g., global vs. competitive inhibition), as well as key transitions in the development of executive function. For example, children shift from recruiting cognitive control reactively, as needed in the moment, to recruiting cognitive control proactively, in preparation for needing it. In addition, children shift from relying on exogenous, environmental signals for engaging cognitive control to using their own endogenous, internally-generated signals.
Munakata, Y., Herd, S.A., Chatham, C.H., Depue, B.E., Banich, M.T., & O'Reilly, R.C. (2011). A unififed framework for inhibitory control. Trends in Cognitive Sciences.
Snyder, H.R., Hutchinson, N., Nyhus, E., Curran, T., Banich, M.T., O'Reilly, R.C., & Munakata, Y. (2010). Neural inhibition enables selection during language processing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Kharitonova, M., Chien, S., Colunga, E., & Munakata, Y. (2009). More than a matter of getting "unstuck": Flexible thinkers use more abstract representations than perseverators. Developmental Science, 12, 662-669.
Chatham, C.H., Frank, M.J., & Munakata, Y. (2009). Pupillometric and behavioral markers of a developmental shift in the temporal dynamics of cognitive control. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(14), 5529-5533.