Adolescent Research Review

, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 31–43 | Cite as

Executive Control and Adolescent Health: Toward A Conceptual Framework

  • Timothy D. NelsonEmail author
  • Jennifer Mize Nelson
  • W. Alex Mason
  • Cara C. Tomaso
  • Chelsea B. Kozikowski
  • Kimberly Andrews Espy
Narrative Review


Executive control is a set of cognitive abilities that may impact a variety of adolescent health behaviors and outcomes; however, research on executive control as a contributor to the physical health of youth is relatively limited. Therefore, the current article explores the possible role of executive control in adolescent health by reviewing relevant literature and proposing a conceptual framework to guide future research in this area. The development of executive control from preschool through adolescence is described, with particular attention to executive control in the unique health context of adolescence. A new conceptual model is proposed, focusing on how executive control may play a critical role in supporting health in adolescence and beyond through the mechanisms of attentional, behavioral, and emotional control. Literature exploring associations between youth executive control and key health behaviors (including diet, physical activity, sleep and substance use) is reviewed. Researchers and clinicians are encouraged to consider executive control as an important cross-cutting contributor to health during adolescence and beyond and to incorporate this construct into longitudinal studies of health.


Executive control Health Health behaviors Child Adolescent 


Author Contributions

TN conceived of the literature review and conceptual framework and drafted major sections of the manuscript; JN, WM, CT, CK, and KE contributed to the literature review and development of the conceptual framework and wrote portions of the manuscript or provided critical editing. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


Preparation of this publication was supported by the National Institute On Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01DA041738 and by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01DK116693. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors report no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Timothy D. Nelson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jennifer Mize Nelson
    • 1
    • 2
  • W. Alex Mason
    • 3
  • Cara C. Tomaso
    • 1
  • Chelsea B. Kozikowski
    • 1
  • Kimberly Andrews Espy
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Nebraska-LincolnLincolnUSA
  2. 2.Office of ResearchUniversity of Nebraska-LincolnLincolnUSA
  3. 3.Boys Town Child and Family Translational Research Center (formerly the National Research Institute)Boys TownUSA
  4. 4.University of Texas at San AntonioSan AntonioUSA

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