The capacity to effortfully control or regulate behavior is of central importance in social development. Individual differences in effortful control have been hypothesized to reflect biologically based, temperamental variation among children. Posner and Rothbart (1994, 1998) have argued that the anterior attention system, which includes areas of the midprefrontal cortex, underlies effortful control capabilities. Furthermore, components of the anterior attentional system are believed to be involved in the regulation of reactive, emotion-related system, such as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical system. We assessed 58 six-year-old children's performance on neuropsychological tasks that have been found in functional imaging studies to involve the anterior brain regions which Posner (1995) describes as comprising the anterior attentional system. We then related performance on these tasks to delay of gratification tasks and parent report of temperament and behavior problems as well as home and laboratory cortisol levels. Results provide some support for Posner and Rothbart's model and suggest a relationship between the anterior attentional system and cortisol regulation. However, these data also illustrate the multifaceted nature of effortful control and the need for care when attempting to understand the neural systems involved in the effortful regulation of behavior.
- Effortful control