“Why is that kid misbehaving?” Chances are, this has something to do with their developing executive functioning. Executive functions are a collection of cognitive processes, which allow individuals to override impulsive actions in order to achieve longer-term goals. Children can show limitations in executive functioning when they blurt out answers in class instead of raising their hands, or try to sneak cookies before dinner -- despite being able to repeat the rules about how they should behave. This is not simply a matter of rebelling. In the lab, we can reliably elicit this type of behavior even when children are motivated to do well.
Children's executive functioning impacts not only their ability to control their behavior in the moment, but predicts important life outcomes decades later. It can also provide insights into behaviors of adults -- who show limitations in executive functioning but often in more subtle ways.