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The Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS): a method of assessing executive function in children

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The dimensional change card sort (DCCS) is an easily administered and widely used measure of executive function that is suitable for use with participants across a wide range of ages. In the standard version, children are required to sort a series of bivalent test cards, first according to one dimension (e.g., color), and then according to the other (e.g., shape). Most 3-year-olds perseverate during the post-switch phase, exhibiting a pattern of inflexibility similar to that seen in patients with prefrontal cortical damage. By 5 years of age, most children switch when instructed to do so. Performance on the DCCS provides an index of the development of executive function, and it is impaired in children with disorders such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism. We describe the protocol for the standard version (duration = 5 min) and the more challenging border version (duration = 5 min), which may be used with children as old as 7 years.

*Note: In the version of the article originally published, the boat in the upper right of the figure was blue. It should be red. The error has been corrected in the HTML and PDF versions of the article.

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Figure 1
Figure 2: Sample target cards and test cards used during the pre-switch phase of the DCCS (top panel).
Figure 3: Summary of the phases involved in the standard and border versions of the DCCS (see text for detail).
Figure 4

Change history

  • 31 August 2006

    In the version of the article originally published, the boat in the upper right of the figure was blue. It should be red. The error has been corrected in the HTML and PDF versions of the article.


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Preparation of this article was supported, in part, by a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and by a Canada Research Chair. Many individuals have been involved the creation and refinement of the DCCS and its many versions, but the author would like to acknowledge in particular the valuable contributions of D. Frye and T. Palfai, co-authors of the article in which the protocol was first described.

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Correspondence to Philip David Zelazo.

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Zelazo, P. The Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS): a method of assessing executive function in children. Nat Protoc 1, 297–301 (2006).

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