Developmental Trajectories of Executive Functioning and Puberty in Boys and Girls

  • Natasha ChakuEmail author
  • Lindsay T. HoytEmail author
Empirical Research


There are substantial changes in executive functioning during adolescence that may correspond with the onset and progression of puberty. The current study examines associations between pubertal development (timing and tempo) and changes in specific executive functioning skills (i.e., attention and self-control) across the transition from childhood to adolescence (ages 9.5–15.5) using data from the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (1099 youth; 52% female, 81% White, 83% above the poverty line). The findings indicated that early maturation was associated with faster increases in attention skills over adolescence for both boys and girls. Further, early maturation predicted worse self-control among girls but not boys. This study provides new insights on executive functioning during the transition to adolescence—a period of both vulnerability and opportunity.



This research uses data from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (NICHD SECCYD), a longitudinal, multi-site prospective project directed by a steering committee and funded through a series of cooperative agreements (U10s and a U01). We thank the principal investigators and families who participated in this study. Information on how to obtain the SECCYD data files is available on the NICHD SECCYD website ( No direct support was received from NICHD for this analysis and the views expressed in this article are the authors alone. The authors also gratefully acknowledge feedback from Dr. Terri Sabol (Northwestern University) and Dr. Ann Higgins (Fordham University) on early drafts of this manuscript.

Authors’ Contributions

NC and LTH conceived of the study. NC performed the statistical analysis and drafted the manuscript; LTH oversaw and provided feedback on the statistical analysis and helped draft and edit the manuscript. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All research reported on in the manuscript was conducted in compliance with APA ethical principles. The study consisted of secondary analyses of de-identified data, and therefore did not require formal consent or ethics board approval.


  1. Achenbach, T. M., & Edelbrock, C. (1991). Child behavior checklist. Burlington VT: University of Vermont. Department of psychiatry.Google Scholar
  2. Achenbach, T. M., & Ruffle, T. M. (2000). The Child Behavior Checklist and related forms for assessing behavioral/emotional problems and competencies. Pediatrics in review, 21(8), 265–271.Google Scholar
  3. Anderson, V. A., Anderson, P., Northam, E., Jacobs, R., & Catroppa, C. (2001). Development of executive functions through late childhood and adolescence in an australian sample. Developmental Neuropsychology, 20(1), 385–406. Scholar
  4. Arain, M., Haque, M., Johal, L., Mathur, P., Nel, W., Rais, A., & Sharma, S. (2013). Maturation of the adolescent brain. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 9, 449–461. Scholar
  5. Arim, R. G., Tramonte, L., Shapka, J. D., Dahinten, V. S., & Willms, J. D. (2011). The family antecedents and the subsequent outcomes of early puberty. Journal of Youth Adolescent, 40(11), 1423–1435. Scholar
  6. Baams, L., Dubas, J. S., Overbeek, G., & Van Aken, M. A. (2015). Transitions in body and behavior: a meta-analytic study on the relationship between pubertal development and adolescent sexual behavior. Journal of Adolescent Health, 56(6), 586–598.Google Scholar
  7. Bearman, S. K., Presnell, K., Martinez, E., & Stice, E. (2006). The skinny on body dissatisfaction: a longitudinal study of adolescent girls and boys. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35(2), 217–229.Google Scholar
  8. Best, J. R., Miller, P. H., & Naglieri, J. A. (2011). Relations between executive function and academic achievement from ages 5 to 17 in a large, representative national sample. Learning and Individual Differences, 21(4), 327–336. Scholar
  9. Biro, F. M., Pinney, S. M., Huang, B., Baker, E. R., Walt Chandler, D., & Dorn, L. D. (2014). Hormone changes in peripubertal girls. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 99(10), 3829-3835. Blakemore, S. J. (2008). Development of the social brain during adolescence. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 61(1), 40–49. Scholar
  10. Blakemore, S. J., & Choudhury, S. (2006). Development of the adolescent brain: implications for executive function and social cognition. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47(3-4), 296–312. Scholar
  11. Bleil, M. E., Booth-LaForce, C., & Benner, A. D. (2017). Race disparities in pubertal timing: implications for cardiovascular disease risk among african american women. Population Research and Policy Review, 36(5), 717–738.Google Scholar
  12. Brix, N., Ernst, A., Lauridsen, L. L. B., Parner, E., Stovring, H., Olsen, J., & Ramlau-Hansen, C. H. (2018). Timing of puberty in boys and girls: a population-based study. Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology, 33(1), 70–78. Scholar
  13. Bub, K. L., McCartney, K., & Willett, J. B. (2007). Behavior problem trajectories and first-grade cognitive ability and achievement skills: a latent growth curve analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(3), 653–670. Scholar
  14. Casey, B. J., Getz, S., & Galvan, A. (2008). The adolescent brain. Developmental Review, 28(1), 62–77. Scholar
  15. Castellanos-Ryan, N., Parent, S., Vitaro, F., Tremblay, R. E., & Séguin, J. R. (2013). Pubertal development, personality, and substance use: a 10-year longitudinal study from childhood to adolescence. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 122(3), 782.Google Scholar
  16. Chumlea, W. C., Schubert, C. M., Roche, A. F., Kulin, H. E., Lee, P. A., Himes, J. H., & Sun, S. S. (2003). Age at menarche and racial comparisons in us girls. Pediatrics, 111(1), 110–113.Google Scholar
  17. Cottrell, J. M., Newman, D. A., & Roisman, G. I. (2015). Explaining the black-white gap in cognitive test scores: toward a theory of adverse impact. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(6), 1713–1736. Scholar
  18. Deardorff, J., Hayward, C., Wilson, K. A., Bryson, S., Hammer, L. D., & Agras, S. (2007). Puberty and gender interact to predict social anxiety symptoms in early adolescence. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41(1), 102–104.Google Scholar
  19. Deardorff, J., Hoyt, L. T., Carter, R., & Shirtcliff, E. A. (2018). Next steps in puberty research: broadening the lens toward understudied populations. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 29, 133-154.Google Scholar
  20. Ferrer, E., Balluerka, N., & Widaman, K. F. (2008). Factorial invariance and the specification of second-order latent growth models. Methodology (Gott), 4(1), 22–36. Scholar
  21. Ge, X., & Natsuaki, M. N. (2009). In search of explanations for early pubteral timing effects on developmental psychopathology. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18(6), 327–331.Google Scholar
  22. Goddings, A.-L., Mills, K. L., Clasen, L. S., Giedd, J. N., Viner, R. M., & Blakemore, S.-J. (2014). The influence of puberty on subcortical brain development. NeuroImage, 88, 242–251.Google Scholar
  23. Gresham, F. M., & Elliot, S. N. (1990). Manual for the social skills rating system. Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service.Google Scholar
  24. Grimm, K. J., Pianta, R. C., & Konold, T. (2009). Longitudinal multitrait-multimethod models for developmental research. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 44(2), 233–258.Google Scholar
  25. Gur, R. C., Richard, J., Calkins, M. E., Chiavacci, R., Hansen, J. A., Bilker, W. B., & Abou-Sleiman, P. M. (2012). Age group and sex differences in performance on a computerized neurocognitive battery in children age 8− 21. Neuropsychology, 26(2), 251.Google Scholar
  26. Hedges, K., & Korchmaros, J. D. (2016). Pubertal timing and substance abuse treatment outcomes: an analysis of early menarche on substance use patterns. Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse, 25(6), 598–605.Google Scholar
  27. Herbert, A. C., Ramirez, A. M., Lee, G., North, S. J., Askari, M. S., West, R. L., & Sommer, M. (2016). Puberty experiences of low-income girls in the united states: a systematic review of qualitative literature from 2000 to 2014. Journal of Adolescent Health, 60(4), 363–379. Scholar
  28. Holmes, C., Brieant, A., Kahn, R., Deater-Deckard, K., & Kim-Spoon, J. (2018). Structural home environment effects on developmental trajectories of self-control and adolescent risk taking. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 48, 1–13.Google Scholar
  29. Holmes, C. J., Kim-Spoon, J., & Deater-Deckard, K. (2016). Linking executive function and peer problems from early childhood through middle adolescence. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 44(1), 31–42.Google Scholar
  30. Hongwanishkul, D., Happaney, K. R., Lee, W. S., & Zelazo, P. D. (2005). Assessment of hot and cool executive function in young children: age-related changes and individual differences. Developmental Neuropsychology, 28(2), 617–644.Google Scholar
  31. Icenogle, G., Steinberg, L., Olino, T. M., Shulman, E. P., Chein, J., Alampay, L. P., & Uribe Tirado, L. M. (2017). Puberty predicts approach but not avoidance on the iowa gambling task in a multinational sample. Child Development, 88(5), 1598–1614. Scholar
  32. Kim, J., & Deater-Deckard, K. (2011). Dynamic changes in anger, externalizing and internalizing problems: attention and regulation. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 52(2), 156–166.Google Scholar
  33. Koerselman, K., & Pekkarinen, T. (2017). The timing of puberty and gender differences in educational achievement IZA Discussion Papers 10889. Germany: IZA Institute of Labor Economics.Google Scholar
  34. Koolschijn, P. C., Peper, J. S., & Crone, E. A. (2014). The influence of sex steroids on structural brain maturation in adolescence. PLoS ONE, 9(1), e83929 Scholar
  35. Lawson, G. M., & Farah, M. J. (2017). Executive function as a mediator between ses and academic achievement throughout childhood. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 41(1), 94–104.Google Scholar
  36. Leon-Carrion, J., García-Orza, J., & Pérez-Santamaría, F. J. (2004). Development of the inhibitory component of the executive functions in children and adolescents. International Journal of Neuroscience, 114(10), 1291–1311.Google Scholar
  37. Marceau, K., Ram, N., Houts, R. M., Grimm, K. J., & Susman, E. J. (2011). Individual differences in boys’ and girls’ timing and tempo of puberty: Modeling development with nonlinear growth models. Developmental psychology, 47(5), 1389.Google Scholar
  38. Mendle, J., Harden, K. P., Brooks-Gunn, J., & Graber, J. A. (2010). Development’s tortoise and hare: pubertal timing, pubertal tempo, and depressive symptoms in boys and girls. Developmental Psychology, 46(5), 1341–1353. Scholar
  39. Miyake, A., & Friedman, N. P. (2012). The nature and organization of individual differences in executive functions: four general conclusions. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21(1), 8–14. Scholar
  40. Miyake, A., Friedman, N. P., Emerson, M. J., Witzki, A. H., Howerter, A., & Wager, T. D. (2000). The unity and diversity of executive functions and their contributions to complex “frontal lobe” tasks: a latent variable analysis. Cognitive Psychology, 41(1), 49–100. Scholar
  41. Moeller, J. (2015). A word on standardization in longitudinal studies: don’t. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1389.Google Scholar
  42. Moffitt, T. E., Arseneault, L., Belsky, J., Dickson, N., Hancox, R. J., Harrington, H., & Caspi, A. (2011). A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108(7), 2693–2698. Scholar
  43. Muthen, B. (1983). Latent variable structural equation modeling with categorical data. Journal of Econometrics, 22, 43-65.Google Scholar
  44. Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (1998). Mplus user’s guide (Version 7). Los Angeles, CA: Muthén & Muthén, 2004.Google Scholar
  45. Nejati, V., Salehinejad, M. A., & Nitsche, M. A. (2018). Interaction of the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (l-DLPFC) and right orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) in hot and cold executive functions: evidence from transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). Neuroscience, 369, 109–123.Google Scholar
  46. Ng-Knight, T., Shelton, K. H., Riglin, L., McManus, I. C., Frederickson, N., & Rice, F. (2016). A longitudinal study of self-control at the transition to secondary school: considering the role of pubertal status and parenting. Journal of Adolescence, 50, 44–55.Google Scholar
  47. Nigg, J. T. (2016). Annual research review: on the relations among self-regulation, self-control, executive functioning, effortful control, cognitive control, impulsivity, risk-taking, and inhibition for developmental psychopathology. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58, 361–383. Scholar
  48. Noll, J. G., Trickett, P. K., Long, J. D., Negriff, S., Susman, E. J., Shalev, I., & Putnam, F. W. (2017). Childhood sexual abuse and early timing of puberty. Journal of Adolescent Health, 60(1), 65–71.Google Scholar
  49. Patton, G. C., & Viner, R. (2007). Pubertal transitions in health. The Lancet, 369(9567), 1130–1139.Google Scholar
  50. Peper, J. S., Hulshoff Pol, H. E., Crone, E. A., & van Honk, J. (2011). Sex steroids and brain structure in pubertal boys and girls: a mini-review of neuroimaging studies. Neuroscience, 191, 28–37. Scholar
  51. Prencipe, A., Kesek, A., Cohen, J., Lamm, C., Lewis, M. D., & Zelazo, P. D. (2011). Development of hot and cool executive function during the transition to adolescence. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 108(3), 621–637. Scholar
  52. Raffington, L., Prindle, J., Keresztes, A., Binder, J., Heim, C., & Shing, Y. L. (2018). Blunted cortisol stress reactivity in low–income children relates to lower memory function. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 90, 110–121.Google Scholar
  53. Raykov, T. (2000). On the large-sample bias, variance, and mean squared error of the conventional noncentrality parameter estimator of covariance structure models. Structural Equation Modeling: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 7(3), 431–441. Scholar
  54. Ribner, A. D., Willoughby, M. T., & Blair, C. B., Investigators, F. L. P. K. (2017). Executive function buffers the association between early math and later academic skills. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 869.Google Scholar
  55. Rogol, A. D., Clark, P. A., & Roemmich, J. N. (2000). Growth and pubertal development in children and adolescents: effects of diet and physical activity–. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 72(2), 521S–528S.Google Scholar
  56. Sabol, T. J., & Hoyt, L. T. (2017). The long arm of childhood: preschool associations with adolescent health. Developmental Psychology, 53(4), 752.Google Scholar
  57. Satterthwaite, T. D., Shinohara, R. T., Wolf, D. H., Hopson, R. D., Elliott, M. A., Vandekar, S. N., & Gur, R. E. (2014). Impact of puberty on the evolution of cerebral perfusion during adolescence. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(23), 8643–8648.Google Scholar
  58. Seltzer, M. H., Frank, K. A., & Bryk, A. S. (1994). The metric matters: the sensitivity of conclusions about growth in student achievement to choice of metric. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 16(1), 41–49.Google Scholar
  59. Shulman, E. P., Harden, K. P., Chein, J. M., & Steinberg, L. (2015). Sex differences in the developmental trajectories of impulse control and sensation-seeking from early adolescence to early adulthood. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 44(1), 1–17.Google Scholar
  60. Squeglia, L. M., Jacobus, J., Sorg, S. F., Jernigan, T. L., & Tapert, S. F. (2013). Early adolescent cortical thinning is related to better neuropsychological performance. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 19(9), 962–970.Google Scholar
  61. Steinberg, L. (2010). A dual systems model of adolescent risk-taking. Developmental Psychobiology, 52(3), 216–224. Scholar
  62. Tsukayama, E., Toomey, S. L., Faith, M. S., & Duckworth, A. L. (2010). Self-control as a protective factor against overweight status in the transition from childhood to adolescence. JAMA Pediatrics, 164, 631–635.Google Scholar
  63. Walthall, J. C., Konold, T. R., & Pianta, R. C. (2005). Factor structure of the social skills rating system across child gender and ethnicity. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 23(3), 201–215.Google Scholar
  64. Wasserman, A. M., Crockett, L. J., & Hoffman, L. (2017). Reward seeking and cognitive control: using the dual systems model to predict adolescent sexual behavior. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 27(4), 907–913.Google Scholar
  65. Wohlfahrt-Veje, C., Korsholm Mouritsen, A., Hagen, C. P., Tinggaard, J., Grunnet Mieritz, M., Boas, M., & Main, K. M. (2016). Pubertal onset in boys and girls is influenced by pubertal timing of both parents. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 101, jc20161073.Google Scholar
  66. Zelazo, P. D., & Carlson, S. M. (2012). Hot and cool executive function in childhood and adolescence: development and plasticity. Child Development Perspectives, 6(4), 354–360.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyFordham UniversityBronxUSA

Personalised recommendations