An exploration of the factor structure of executive functioning in children

Messer, D; Bernardi, M.; Botting, Nicola; Hill, Elisabeth L.; Nash, Gilly; Leonard, Hayley C. and Henry, L.A.. 2018. An exploration of the factor structure of executive functioning in children. Frontiers in Psychology, 9(1179), ISSN 1664-1078 [Article]

fpsyg-09-01179.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (270kB) | Preview

Abstract or Description

There has been considerable debate and interest in the factor structure of Executive Functioning. For children and young people, there is evidence for a progression from a single factor to a more differentiated structure, although the precise nature of these factors differs between investigations. The purpose of the current study was to look at this issue again with another sample, and try to understand possible reasons for previous differences between investigations. In addition, we examined the relationship between less central EF tasks, such as fluency and planning, to the more common tasks of updating/executive working memory, inhibition and switching/shifting. A final aim was to carry out analyses which are relevant to the debate about whether EF is influenced by language ability, or language ability is influenced by EF. We reasoned that if language ability affects EF, a factor analysis of verbal and non-verbal EF tasks might result in the identification of a factor which predominantly contains verbal tasks and a factor that predominately contains non-verbal tasks.

Our investigation involved 128 typically developing participants (mean age 10:4) who were given EF assessments that included verbal and non-verbal versions of each task: executive working memory; switching; inhibition; fluency; and planning. Exploratory factor analyses on executive working memory, switching and inhibition produced a structure consisting of inhibition in one factor and the remaining tasks in another. It was decided to exclude verbal planning from the next analyses of all the ten tasks because of statistical considerations. Analysis of the remaining nine EF tasks produced two factors, one factor containing the two inhibition tasks, and another factor that contained all the other tasks (switching, executive working memory, fluency and non-verbal planning). There was little evidence that the verbal or non-verbal elements in these tasks affected the factor structure. Both these issues are considered in the discussion, where there is a general evaluation of findings about the factor structure of EF.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):

Additional Information:

This research was funded by the Economic and Social
Research Council grant number RES-062-23-0535 and Waterloo
Foundation, References 1121/1555 and 920/2318


executive function, development, factor structure, childhood

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



18 June 2018Accepted
13 July 2018Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

02 Jul 2018 14:18

Last Modified:

23 Mar 2020 12:13

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


View statistics for this item...

Edit Record Edit Record (login required)