Friday, 18 September 2015


By special dispensation of the authors, there is a Powerpoint version of Laura’s talk which, though it was changed somewhat for the conference, gives you far more of the general argument and the results. Saves you a ticket to Albuquerque. If you are grateful, hit the Donate button and send me a coffee.


Daniel A Briley, 1 Laura E Engelhardt, Frank D Mann, K Paige Harden, Elliot M Tucker-Drob

1 University of Texas at Austin,

Self-regulation refers to the ability and general tendency to maintain alignment between desired and actual psychological states. This core psychological task is thought to guide behavior and depend on the joint input of several cognitive systems. For example, executive functions refer to high-level cognitive control mechanisms that direct lower-level processes necessary for attention, learning, and decision making. Similarly, conscientiousness refers to general tendencies toward disciplined, self-controlled, responsible, and achievement-oriented behavior. Although these constructs appear similar on the surface, the psychometric relation between self-regulatory ability (i.e., executive functioning) and general selfregulatory behavior (i.e., conscientiousness) is not well known.

The current project uses data from the Texas Twin Project to test the structure of self-regulation in a genetically informative sample. Participants (N = 509 individuals, 82 MZ pairs and 195 DZ pairs, mean age = 11.0 years, 46.2% male) completed an extensive battery of twelve executive functioning tasks, and a hierarchical factor model was constructed. Participants self-reported on their levels of conscientiousness, and one of the participants’ parents provided an informant-report of conscientiousness.

We tested the association between executive functioning and self- and informant-report of conscientiousness, as well as two facets. We used behavior genetic methodology to decompose this association into genetic and environmental pathways. A hierarchical factor model of executive functioning fit the data well. We specified a general executive functioning factor that was indicated by four sub-factors, working memory, updating, switching, and inhibition. Phenotypically, conscientiousness was weakly associated with executive functioning (r’s approximately.15). Convergent validity was somewhat larger for informant-report variables and for facets related to self-discipline (as compared to order). These associations were primarily genetically mediated. Higher levels of executive functioning and conscientiousness are both associated with a host of beneficial life outcomes, such as academic achievement, health, and occupational success.

One possible explanation for this common result is that individuals who are able to better self-regulate can use cognitive resources to accomplish goal-directed tasks. The current results indicate that executive functioning and conscientiousness primarily index different self-regulatory mechanisms, despite the high similarity of the motivating theoretical background for each construct. Identifying the causal processes that link self-regulation and intelligence with beneficial life outcomes needs to consider both levels of ability and typical patterns of behavior.

1 comment:

  1. Could it be that measures of conscientiousness tap into preferences rather than abilities?