Executive Function and Psychopathology: A Neurodevelopmental Perspective

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Executive function (EF) skills are neurocognitive skills that support the reflective, top-down coordination and control of other brain functions, and there is neural and behavioral evidence for a continuum from more "cool" EF skills activated in emotionally neutral contexts to more "hot" EF skills needed for the reversal of motivationally significant tendencies. Difficulties in EF are transdiagnostic indicators of atypical development. A neurodevelopmental model traces the pathway from adverse childhood experiences and stress to disruption of the development of neural systems supporting reflection and EF skills to an increased risk for general features of psychopathology. Research indicates that EF skills can be cultivated through scaffolded training and are a promising target for therapeutic and preventive intervention. Intervention efficacy can be enhanced by mitigating disruptive bottom-up influences such as stress, training both hot and cool EF skills, and adding a reflective, metacognitive component to promote far transfer of trained skills.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)431-454
Number of pages24
JournalAnnual Review of Clinical Psychology
StatePublished - May 7 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
P.D.Z. is cofounder (and chair of the Advisory Board), Reflection Sciences, Inc. He is a commercial partner on a project supported by Small Business Innovation Research Grant Fast Track 1 R44 HD088304-01 from NICHD/NIH, “A low-cost automated and noninvasive tool for the assessment of cognition in infants and toddlers” (PI: Anderson), a consultant on a project supported by the National Cancer Institute/NIH, “ECHO PRO research resource: a developmentally-based measurement science framework for assessing environmental exposure and child health” (U24 OD023319-01; PIs: Gershon and Cella), and a coinvestigator and lead scientist, executive function and cognition domain, on contract 75N94019D00005 from NICHD/NIH (PI: Gershon), “NIH Infant and Toddler Toolbox.” He also serves as scientific advisor for Vroom (Bezos Family Foundation), expert/advisor for Understood.org, and senior science advisor for the Science of Learning and Development (SoLD) Design Principles Project. Apart from these, the author is not aware of any affiliations, memberships, funding, or financial holdings that might be perceived as affecting the objectivity of this review.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved.


  • developmental systems
  • dimensional models
  • executive function
  • hierarchical models
  • neuroplasticity
  • p factor
  • reflection
  • stress
  • transdiagnostic


Dive into the research topics of 'Executive Function and Psychopathology: A Neurodevelopmental Perspective'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this