Lifespan development of executive functions

We are interested in the lifespan development of cognitive functions, particularly in the domain of executive control that includes abilities such as maintenance and selection of task relevant information, inhibition of prepotent response tendencies, and switching between tasks. Previous studies have shown that these control functions develop multidimensionally and multidirectionally across the human lifespan. Our lab investigates whether age-differences in executive control can be modulated, for instance by means of verbal strategies or task practice.

Selected relevant publications:

Karbach, J.,  Kray, J., & Hommel, B. (2011). Action-effect learning in childhood: Does language matter? Psychological Research, 75, 334-340.

Karbach, J. & Kray, J. (2007). Developmental changes in switching between mental task sets: The influence of verbal labeling in childhood. Journal of Cognition and Development, 8, 205-236.

Kray, J., Gaspard, H., Karbach, J., & Blaye, A. (2013). Developmental changes in using verbal self-cueing in task-switching situations: The impact of task practice and task sequencing demands. Frontiers in Psychology, 4:940.

Kray, J., Kipp, K., & Karbach, J. (2009). The development of selective inhibitory control: The influence of verbal labeling. Acta Psychologia, 130, 48-57.

Kray, J., Karbach, J., & Blaye, A. (2012). The influence of stimulus-set size on developmental changes in cognitive control and confict adaptation. Acta Psychologica, 140, 119-128.

Kray, J., Eber, J., & Karbach, J. (2008). Verbal self-instructions in task switching: A compensatory tool for action-control deficits in childhood and old age? Developmental Science, 11, 223-236.

Teacher education

In a longitudinal approach, we investigate the role of individual and organizational variables on academic success in teacher candidates. Our focus is on multiple criteria of success, among them knowledge in educational science, didactics, and teaching competence.

Selected relevant publications:

Biermann, A., Karbach, J., Spinath, F., & Brünken, R. (2015). Investigating effects of the quality of field experiences and personality on perceived teaching skills in German pre-service teachers for secondary schools. Teaching and Teacher Education, 51, 77-87.

Kaub, K., Karbach, J., Biermann, A., Friedrich, A., Bedersdorfer, H.-W., Spinath, F.M., & Brünken, R. (2012). Berufliche Interessensorientierungen und kognitive Leistungsprofile von Lehramtsstudierenden mit unterschiedlichen Fachkombinationen. Zeitschrift für Pädagogische Psychologie, 26, 233-249.

Reichl, C., Wach, F.-S., Spinath, F.M., Brünken, R., & Karbach, J. (2014). Burnout risk among first-year teacher students: The roles of personality and motivation. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 85, 85-92.

Ruffing, S., Hahn, E., Spinath, F.M., Brünken, R. & Karbach, J. (2015). Predicting students' learning strategies: The contribution of chronotype over personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 85, 199-204.

Ruffing, S., Wach, F.-S., Spinath, F.M., Brünken, R., & Karbach, J. (2015). Learning strategies and general cognitive ability as predictors of gender-specific academic achievement. Frontiers in Psychology, 6:1238.


Prof. Dr. Gisa Aschersleben (Saarland University)

Prof. Dr. Michael Böhm (Saarland University Hospital)

Prof. Dr. Roland Brünken (Saarland University)

Prof. Dr. Pascale Engel de Abreu (Luxemburg University)

Dr. Sabine Glock (University of Wuppertal)

Dr. Catherine Gunzenhauser (University of Leipzig)

Prof. Dr. Anne Henning (University of Applied Sciences Gera)

Dr. Ingrid Kindermann (Saarland University Hospital)

Dr. Kristina Küper (IfADo Leibnitz Research Center)

Dr. Denise Lenski (Private Practice)

Prof. Dr. Romain Martin (Luxemburg University)

Prof. Dr. Henrik Saalbach (University of Leipzig)

Prof. Dr. Torsten Schubert (Humboldt University Berlin)

Dr. Marion Spengler (University of Tübingen)

Prof. Dr. Frank M. Spinath (Saarland University)

Prof. Dr. Tilo Strobach (Medical University Hamburg)

Dr. Kerstin Unger (Brown University)

Prof. Dr. Paul Verhaeghen (Georgia Institute of Technology)


Patients with chronic heart failure not only suffer from physical symptoms but also display distinct cognitive deficits, particularly in the domains of executive function, memory, and processing speed. These deficits can seriously impair compliance and health management. In our research we investigate the extent of cognitive deficits, the potential of cognitive training to compensate them as well as the psychological well being of patients suffering from chronic heart failure.

Selected relevant publications:

Bunz, M., Kindermann, I., Karbach, J., Wedegärtner, S., Böhm, M., & Lenski, D. (2015). Psychokardiologie: Wie Herz und Psyche zusammenhängen. Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift, 140, 117-124.

Bunz, M., Lenski, D., Wedegärtner, S., Ukena, C., Karbach, J., Böhm, M. & Kindermann, I., (in press). Heart-focused Anxiety in patients with Chronic Heart Failure before implantation of an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator – Baseline findings of the Anxiety-CHF Study. Clinical Research in Cardiology. DOI: 10.1007/s00392-015-0909-1

Fischer, D., Kindermann, I., Karbach, J., Einsle, F., Bley, S., Herzberg, P.Y., Köllner, V., & Böhm, M. (2012). Heart-focused anxiety in the German general population. Clinical Research in Cardiology, 101, 109-116.

Kindermann, I., Fischer, D., Karbach, J., Link, A., Barth, C., Ukena, C., Mahfoud, F., Köllner, V, Kindermann, M., Böhm, M. (2012). Cognitive functions in patients with decompensated heart failure – The Cognitive Impairment in Heart Failure (CogImpair-HF) study. European Journal of Heart Failure, 14, 404-413.

Cognitive plasticity across the lifespan

In our daily lives, we are constantly required to adapt to the demands of changing developmental contexts and dynamic social environments. The potential modifiability of a person’s cognitive and neural processes resulting from these adaptations has been referred to as plasticity. One way to understand plasticity is to apply training interventions and to measure their effects in trained and untrained tasks. The work of our lab is focused on the effects of executive control training and working memory training in children, younger adults and older adults. Recently, we have been particularly interested in the effects of cognitive training in clinical populations (e.g., children suffering from ADHD) as well as on the effects of cognitive training on activities of daily living outside of the lab (e.g., academic achievement).

Selected relevant publications:

Karbach, J. & Verhaeghen, P. (2014). Making working memory work: A meta-analysis of executive control and working memory training in younger and older adults. Psychological Science, 25, 2027–2037.

Karbach, J., & Schubert, T. (2013). Training-induced cognitive and neural plasticity. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7:48.

Karbach, J., Strobach, T., & Schubert, T. (2015). Adaptive working-memory training benefits reading, but not mathematics in middle childhood. Child Neuropsychology, 21, 285-301.

Karbach, J. & Unger, K. (2014). Executive control training from middle childhood to adolescence. Frontiers in Psychology, 5:390. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00390

Karbach J. & Kray, J. (2009). How useful is executive control training? Age differences in near and far transfer of task-switching training. Developmental Science, 12, 978-990.

Karbach, J., Mang, S., & Kray, J. (2010). Transfer of verbal self-instruction training in older age: Evidence from task switching. Psychology & Aging, 25, 677-683.

Kray, J., Karbach, J., Hänig, S., & Freitag, C.M. (2012). Can task-switching training enhance executive control functioning in children with ADHD? Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 5: 180.

Strobach, T., Salminen, T., Karbach, J., & Schubert, T. (2014). Executive functions and their optimization in the context of dual-task practice. Psychological Research, 78, 836-851.

Titz, C. & Karbach, J. (2014). Working memory and executive functions: Effects of training on academic abilities. Psychological Research, 78, 852-868.