The Nature and Organization of Individual Differences in Executive Functions: Four General Conclusions

Curr Dir Psychol Sci. 2012 Feb;21(1):8-14. doi: 10.1177/0963721411429458.


Executive functions (EFs)-a set of general-purpose control processes that regulate one's thoughts and behaviors-have become a popular research topic lately and have been studied in many subdisciplines of psychological science. This article summarizes the EF research that our group has conducted to understand the nature of individual differences in EFs and their cognitive and biological underpinnings. In the context of a new theoretical framework that we have been developing (the unity/diversity framework), we describe four general conclusions that have emerged from our research. Specifically, we argue that individual differences in EFs, as measured with simple laboratory tasks, (1) show both unity and diversity (different EFs are correlated yet separable); (2) reflect substantial genetic contributions; (3) are related to various clinically and societally important phenomena; and (4) show some developmental stability.