Executive Control Throughout Elementary School: Factor Structure and Associations With Early Childhood Executive Control

Timothy D. Nelson, Tiffany D. James, Jennifer Mize Nelson, Cara C. Tomaso, Kimberly Andrews Espy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


This study examined the factor structure of executive control throughout elementary school, as well as associations between executive control abilities in preschool and elementary school. Data were drawn from a longitudinal study of executive control development in a community sample of children (N = 294; 53% female, 47% male) oversampled for low family income (25.4% below poverty line; Mincome = $46,638; SD = $33,256). The sample was representative of the Midwestern city in which the study was conducted in terms of race (71.4% White, 24.5% multiracial, 3.7% Black, and.3% Asian American) and ethnicity (14% Hispanic). Children completed a battery of ten performance-based tasks assessing executive control abilities in grades 1 (Mage = 7.08 years), 2 (Mage = 8.04 years), 3 (Mage = 9.02 years), and 4 (Mage = 9.98 years). Confirmatory factor analysis supported a two-factor structure at each grade with factors representing working memory and inhibitory control/flexible shifting. Measurement invariance testing revealed partial scalar (indicator intercepts) invariance for working memory and partial metric (indicator loadings) and partial scalar invariance for inhibitory control/flexible shifting. Preschool executive control (age 4.5 years), represented by a unitary latent factor, significantly predicted working memory (bs =.79,.72,.81,.66) and inhibitory control/flexible shifting (bs =.69,.64,.63,.62) factors in grades 1 through 4. Follow-up analyses indicated that the findings were not attributable to general cognitive ability. Findings support greater separability of executive control components in elementary school versus preschool, and considerable continuity of executive control from preschool through elementary school.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)730-750
Number of pages21
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2022


  • Elementary school
  • Executive control
  • Factor structure
  • Inhibitory control
  • Preschool

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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