Ecological validity in measuring parents’ executive function

Catherine M. Diercks, Kelley E. Gunther, Douglas M. Teti, Erika Lunkenheimer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Parents' executive functions (EFs), or cognitive skills facilitating thought and behavior management, are meaningful correlates of parenting behavior. EFs are theorized to support parents in inhibiting reactive responses, managing information during parent–child interactions, and adapting to novel developmental demands. Less effective EFs associate with risk for harsh parenting and physical abuse, underscoring the importance of research on parental EFs in promoting healthy child development. Yet, despite the strong theory, findings are mixed and reveal only modest effect sizes in relations between EFs and parenting. One explanation may be a lack of ecological validity in measuring parental EFs. Traditional measures of adult EFs have been used, but these are decontextualized and do not reflect the cognitively and emotionally demanding nature of parenting. In this article, we argue that new and adapted measures are needed. We discuss the role of EFs in parenting, review measurement, and offer suggestions for improvements in ecological validity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)208-214
Number of pages7
JournalChild Development Perspectives
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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