The structure of executive functions in preschool children and chimpanzees



Völter CJ, Reindl E, Felsche E, Civelek Z, Whalen A, Lugosi Z, Duncan L, Herrmann E, Call J & Seed AM (2022) The structure of executive functions in preschool children and chimpanzees. Scientific Reports, 12, Art. No.: 6456.

Executive functions (EF) are a core aspect of cognition. Research with adult humans has produced evidence for unity and diversity in the structure of EF. Studies with preschoolers favour a 1-factor model, in which variation in EF tasks is best explained by a single underlying trait on which all EF tasks load. How EF are structured in nonhuman primates remains unknown. This study starts to fill this gap through a comparative, multi-trait multi-method test battery with preschoolers (N = 185) and chimpanzees (N = 55). The battery aimed at measuring working memory updating, inhibition, and attention shifting with three non-verbal tasks per function. For both species the correlations between tasks were low to moderate and not confined to tasks within the same putative function. Factor analyses produced some evidence for the unity of executive functions in both groups, in that our analyses revealed shared variance. However, we could not conclusively distinguish between 1-, 2- or 3-factor models. We discuss the implications of our findings with respect to the ecological validity of current psychometric research.

Scientific Reports: Volume 12

FundersUniversity of St Andrews
Publication date31/12/2022
Publication date online30/04/2022
Date accepted by journal11/02/2022

People (1)


Mrs Zsuzsa Lugosi
Mrs Zsuzsa Lugosi

Tutor (ASF), Psychology