Original Article

Annals of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 126-140

First online:

Individual Differences in Executive Functioning: Implications for Stress Regulation

  • Paula G. WilliamsAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Utah Email author 
  • , Yana SuchyAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Utah
  • , Holly K. RauAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Utah

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Executive functioning (EF) refers to the set of neurocognitive processes that facilitate novel problem solving, modification of behavior in response to environmental changes, planning and generating strategies for complex actions, and ability to override pre-potent behavioral and emotional responses to engage in goal-directed behavior.


To provide an overview of research on individual differences in EF and examine the extent to which these individual differences confer risk and resilience for poor stress regulation.


Review of the literature suggests that individual differences in EF are evident at multiple levels of analysis including genotype, endophenotype (e.g., performance on cognitive tasks), and phenotype (e.g., temperament and personality). These individual differences are associated with differential stress exposure, reactivity, recovery, and restorative processes.


A theoretical framework that includes individual differences in EF will inform behavioral medicine research on stress risk and resilience.