Age-related change in executive function: developmental trends and a latent variable analysis

Neuropsychologia. 2006;44(11):2017-36. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2006.01.010. Epub 2006 Mar 9.


This study examined the developmental trajectories of three frequently postulated executive function (EF) components, Working Memory, Shifting, and Inhibition of responses, and their relation to performance on standard, but complex, neuropsychological EF tasks, the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task (WCST), and the Tower of London (ToL). Participants in four age groups (7-, 11-, 15-, and 21-year olds) carried out nine basic experimental tasks (three tasks for each EF), the WCST, and the ToL. Analyses were done in two steps: (1) analyses of (co)variance to examine developmental trends in individual EF tasks while correcting for basic processing speed, (2) confirmatory factor analysis to extract latent variables from the nine basic EF tasks, and to explain variance in the performance on WCST and ToL, using these latent variables. Analyses of (co)variance revealed a continuation of EF development into adolescence. Confirmatory factor analysis yielded two common factors: Working Memory and Shifting. However, the variables assumed to tap Inhibition proved unrelated. At a latent level, again correcting for basic processing speed, the development of Shifting was seen to continue into adolescence, while Working Memory continued to develop into young-adulthood. Regression analyses revealed that Working Memory contributed most strongly to WCST performance in all age groups. These results suggest that EF component processes develop at different rates, and that it is important to recognize both the unity and diversity of EF component processes in studying the development of EF.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Attention / physiology
  • Child
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Models, Psychological
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology