Genetic and Environmental Links Between Executive Functioning and Effortful Control in Middle Childhood

Gianna Rea-Sandin, Sierra Clifford, Leah D. Doane, Mary C. Davis, Kevin J. Grimm, Madisen T. Russell, Kathryn Lemery-Chalfant

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


There is a need to understand the components of self-regulation, given its link to nearly every domain of functioning across the life span. This study examined the etiological underpinnings of covariance between measures of executive functioning (EF) and effortful control (EC) in middle childhood. The extent that genetic and environmental factors explain the association between EF and EC is unknown. Families were drawn from a longitudinal twin study (N = 894 twins; Mage = 8.87 years, SD = 1.10; 51.4% female; 46.8% non-Hispanic White, 28% Latino/a/x) and twins completed EF tasks during a home visit (Flanker Task, Continuous Performance Task, and Digit Span Backward) and primary caregivers (93.8% mothers) reported on their twins’ EC (Attentional Focusing and Inhibitory Control). Univariate twin models showed additive genetic and nonshared environmental influences on the Flanker Task, Continuous Performance Task, Digit Span Backward, and parent-reported Inhibitory Control, and dominant genetic influences were implicated in parent-reported Attentional Focusing. Bivariate twin models revealed that additive genetic influences explained the small covariance between EF and EC. Executive attention could explain the genetic covariance between measures of EF and EC. This study suggests that EF and EC tap into the same underlying self-regulation construct, with weak correlations between constructs being attributed to measurement, rather than conceptual, differences. Elucidating the overlap between EF and EC can bring researchers closer to understanding how best to foster adaptive self-regulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)780-793
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 12 2022


  • effortful control
  • executive functioning
  • middle childhood
  • self-regulation
  • twins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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