A systematic review and meta-analysis of racial/ethnic differences and similarities in executive function performance in the United States

Gianna Rea-Sandin, Kevin M. Korous, José M. Causadias

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: The extent that executive function performance varies between racial/ethnic groups in the United States is unclear, limiting future studies on the problems underlying these differences. The aim of this meta-analysis was to test two competing hypotheses: The cultural differences hypothesis asserts large differences between Whites and racial/ethnic minorities in the U.S., and small differences between- (e.g., African Americans, Latinos) and within- (e.g., Latinos: Mexican Americans, Cuban Americans) minority groups. The cultural similarities hypothesis posits small differences between Whites and minorities, and these differences are equal or smaller in magnitude than differences between- and within-minorities on executive function performance. We also tested moderators of these differences. METHOD: We focused on overall executive functioning performance and its three core components: inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility.. A systematic search on PsycINFO, Web of Science, ERIC, PubMed, and ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global identified 46 records (17% unpublished; 38 independent samples) with 56,067 total participants (Mage = 44.48 years; range = 3.05-80.45; 52% female; 39.5% racial/ethnic minority). RESULTS: Absolute differences between Whites and minorities (d = 0.85, 95% CI [0.65, 1.05]) were larger in magnitude compared to between-minorities (d = 0.44, 95% CI [0.28, 0.60]) and within-minorities (d = 0.09, 95% CI [0.03, 0.15]). White-minority differences were moderated by type of executive function measure and year of data collection. Post hoc analyses revealed large relative differences between some groups but not others. CONCLUSIONS: Findings support the cultural differences hypothesis for executive function performance. This meta-analysis underscores the need to address social inequalities in the U.S. that drive performance differences. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-156
Number of pages16
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'A systematic review and meta-analysis of racial/ethnic differences and similarities in executive function performance in the United States'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this