Protocol - Cognitive Flexibility (Dimensional Change Card Sort) - Young Children

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Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS) Standard Version


Publicly available


The Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS) Standard Version is an interviewer-administered task that measures the flexible use of rules to govern behavior as a means of providing an index of executive function in young children. In this task, the assessor asks the participant to sort bivalent test cards according to one dimension (e.g., color) and then the other (e.g., shape).

The Dimensional Change Card Sort task is a freely available, simplified version of the Wisconsin Card Sort test. For more information about the Wisconsin Card Sort test, please refer to the [link[www.cognitiveatlas.org/task/id/tsk_4a57abb949f21|Cognitive Atlas Interpretation]].


Summary of the Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS) Standard Version

The Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS) Standard Version makes use of two different styles of bivalent cards, displaying for example a red boat and blue rabbit.

The protocol consists of the following four steps:

1. The assessor decides which dimension (e.g., color or shape) on the bivalent cards will be used for the pre-switch phase of sorting.

2. The assessor sets up two sorting trays displaying target cards representing the two different styles of card. The participant is then given instructions for sorting a set of test cards, which displays the same images as the target cards, based on the dimension decided upon in step 1. The assessor guides the participant through the process of appropriately sorting one of each style of card.

3. The pre-switch phase of testing is carried out. The assessor instructs the participant to sort six randomly selected test cards based on the dimension selected in step 1.

4. The post-switch phase of testing is carried out. The assessor instructs the participant to sort six randomly selected test cards based on the other dimension.


Typically, post-switch performance is only evaluated for participants who correctly sort five or more of the six pre-switch cards. Participants are scored as having passed or failed the task as scores are usually bimodally distributed between being all correct or all incorrect on post-switch trials. Participants who correctly sort five or more of the six post-switch cards are considered to have passed the task.

Most healthy three-year-old children fail the post-switch phase of the standard version of the DCCS, exhibiting inflexibility, while most healthy four- and five-year-old children pass as their flexibility increases.

Personnel and Training Required

The assessor should be trained to respond in a neutral, nonevaluative, noncorrective manner during the task. The assessor should be trained in how to respond to hesitant or resistant behavior by the participant.

Equipment Needs

The assessor will need two sorting trays with panels for displaying target cards, two styles of bivalent target cards (e.g., one card displaying a red boat and the other a blue rabbit), and 14 standard test cards (7 of each style of target card).


Requirement CategoryRequired
Average time of greater than 15 minutes in an unaffected individualNo
Major equipmentNo
Specialized requirements for biospecimen collectionNo
Specialized trainingNo

Mode of Administration


Life Stage:

Infant, Toddler

Specific Instructions:


Research Domain Information

Release Date:

November 21, 2016


This measure assesses flexibility in detection and use of rules that govern behavior.


Cognitive flexibility is one component of the multidimensional construct "executive function." This measure provides a marker of the development of executive function. Substance use has been shown to correlate with deficits in both cognitive flexibility and other aspects of executive functioning.

Selection Rationale

This Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS) Standard Version is a well validated measure of one aspect of executive control-cognitive flexibility-which can be used with preschoolers.




Common Data Elements (CDE)Child Cognitive Flexibility Questionnaire Assessment Score3371733CDE Browser

Process and Review

The [link[phenx.org/node/101|Expert Review Panel #3]] (ERP 3) reviewed the measures in Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Substances, and Substance Abuse and Addiction domains.

Guidance from ERP 3 includes:

• No significant changes to measure

Back-compatible: NA no changes to Data Dictionary


Zelazo, P. D. (2006). The dimensional change card sort (DCCS): A method of assessing executive function in children. Nature Protocols, 1(1), 297-301.

General References

Errico, A. L., King, A. C., Lovallo, W. R., & Parsons, O. A. (2002). Cortisol dysregulation and cognitive impairments in abstinent male alcoholics. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 26(8), 1198-1204.

Klüber, A., Murphy, K., & Garavan, H. (2005). Cocaine dependence and attention switching within and between verbal and visuospatial working memory. European Journal of Neuroscience, 21, 1984-1992.

van der Plas, E. A., Crone, E. A., van den Wildenberg, W. P., Tranel, D., & Bechara, A. (2009). Executive control deficits in substance-dependent individuals: A comparison of alcohol, cocaine, and methamphetamine and of men and women. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 31(6), 706-719.

Verejo-García, A., Bechara, A., Recknor, E. C., & Pérez-García, M. (2006). Executive dysfunction in substance dependent individuals during drug use and abstinence: An examination of the behavioral, cognitive and emotional correlates of addiction. Journal of International Neuropsychological Society, 12, 405-415.

Protocol ID:



Export Variables
Variable NameVariable IDVariable DescriptionVersiondbGaP Mapping
PX530102_Dimension_Preswitch_PhasePX530102010000Dimension used for pre-switch phase of sorting.4N/A
PX530102_Number_Preswitch_Cards_Correctly_SortedPX530102020000Number of pre-switch cards correctly sorted: __________4N/A
PX530102_Number_Postswitch_Cards_Correctly_SortedPX530102030000Number of post-switch cards correctly sorted: __________4N/A