Effects of fantasy-oriented play on the development of executive functions
Although recent correlational studies have found a relationship between fantasy orientation (FO; i.e., a child's propensity to play in a fantastical realm) and higher-order cognitive skills called executive functions (EFs), no work has addressed the causality and directionality of this relationship. The present study experimentally determined the directionality of the observed relationship between FO and EFs through the training of FO in preschool-aged children. One hundred thirteen children between the ages of 2 and 5 were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: fantasy-play, realistic-play, or business-as-usual control. Results revealed that children who participated in a five-week fantasy-play intervention showed consistent improvements in inhibitory control and working memory beyond that of children who participated in realistic-play or business-as-usual control conditions. The data suggest that the relationship between FO play and EF development may be equifinal such that engaging in FO play is one of many ways to directly enhance EF development.