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A Hierarchical Factor Model of Executive Functions in Adolescents: Evidence of Gene-Environment Interplay

  • James J. Li (a1), Tammy A. Chung (a2), Michael M. Vanyukov (a3), D. Scott Wood (a2), Robert Ferrell (a3) (a4) and Duncan B. Clark (a2) (a4)...


Executive functions (EF) are a complex set of neurodevelopmental, higher-ordered processes that are especially salient during adolescence. Disruptions to these processes are predictive of psychiatric problems in later adolescence and adulthood. The objectives of the current study were to characterize the latent structure of EF using bifactor analysis and to investigate the independent and interactive effects of genes and environments on EF during adolescence. Using a representative young adolescent sample, we tested the interaction of a polymorphism in the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTTLPR) and parental supervision for EF through hierarchical linear regression. To account for the possibility of a hierarchical factor structure for EF, a bifactor analysis was conducted on the eight subtests of the Delis-Kaplan Executive Functions System (D-KEFS). The bifactor analysis revealed the presence of a general EF construct and three EF subdomains (i.e., conceptual flexibility, inhibition, and fluency). A significant 5-HTTLPR by parental supervision interaction was found for conceptual flexibility, but not for general EF, fluency or inhibition. Specifically, youth with the L/L genotype had significantly lower conceptual flexibility scores compared to youth with S/S or S/L genotypes given low levels of parental supervision. Our findings indicate that adolescents with the L/L genotype were especially vulnerable to poor parental supervision on EF. This vulnerability may be amenable to preventive interventions. (JINS, 2014, 20, 62–73)


Corresponding author

Correspondence and reprint requests to: James J. Li, Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University, 800 East Leigh Street, P.O. Box 980126, Richmond, VA 23298-0126. E-mail:


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