Measurement and Development of Executive Function

Self-regulation broadly encompasses a set of skills involved in moment-to-moment control of actions, emotions, and cognitions, and occurs both consciously and unconsciously at a behavioral and physiological level. Executive function, a subset of self-regulation refers to a set of skills including inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. Individual differences in executive function skills are implicated in academic achievement as well as interpersonal and career success. One strand of my research agenda investigates the measurement and influences on the development of both behavioral and physiological executive function throughout early development. After birth, we are able to reliably measure executive function as early as 14 months of age and find executive function in early toddlerhood is best described by a three-factor model. Ongoing work finds individual differences in these executive function factors are transmitted intergenerationally from parent to child, and that this transmission occurs through parent scaffolding behaviors. In other work, I am exploring different measurement models of EF in early childhood, with particular attention to the ways mainstream, ethnocentric conceptualization and measurement may bias our understandings of the role EF plays in skill development and life success.

Representative Publications

Ribner, A., Blair, C., Devine, R., Hughes, C. & the New Fathers and Mothers Study Team. Intergenerational transmission of executive function in toddlerhood. Manuscript under review at Developmental Science.

Devine, R. T., Ribner, A., & Hughes, C. (2019). Measuring and predicting individual differences in executive functions at 14 months: a longitudinal study. Child Development, 90(5), e618-e636.

Braren, S., Perry, R., Brandes-Aitken, A., Ribner, A., Brito, N., Blair, C., & The NewFAMs Study Team. Prenatal Father-Mother Cortisol Co-Regulation Predicts Infant Executive Functions at 24 Months. Developmental Psychobiology.

Miller-Cotto, D., Smith, L., Ribner, A., & Wang, A., Changing the Conversation: A Culturally Responsive Perspective on Executive Functions, Minoritized Children, and Their Families. Manuscript under review.

Executive Function and Mathematics

It is important to recognize that the development of mathematical skills is affected by a range of influences at different levels; skill development is multidimensional and both within-child skills and interpersonal interactions with parents and teachers shape children’s abilities. One primary focus of my research to date has been on the relations between these varied influences and the development of children’s mathematical skills in early childhood. Most notably, I have found a robust role of language and executive function in the development of math skills. More recent work has made an attempt to conceptualize of these and other contextual influences on the development of academic skills in an organizing framework known as the Opportunity-Propensity model of achievement. In other collaborative work, I am exploring dynamics of mathematical skill development in middle childhood through the development and implementation of an intervention for Black and Latine learners, as well as students living in poverty.

Representative Publications

Ribner, A., Harvey, E, Gervais, R., & Fitzpatrick, C. (2019). Explaining school entry math and reading achievement in Canadian children using the Opportunity-Propensity framework. Learning and Instruction, 59, 65-75.

Slusser, E., Ribner, A., & Shusterman, A. (2019). Language counts: Early language mediates the relationship between parent education and children's math ability. Developmental Science, 22(3), e12773.

Ribner, A., Moeller, K., Willoughby, M., Blair, C., & Family Life Project Key Investigators. (2018). Cognitive Abilities and Mathematical Competencies at School Entry. Mind, Brain, and Education, 12(4).

Ribner, A., Willoughby. M., Blair, C., & FLP Key Investigators. (2017). Executive function predicts late elementary school academic skills. Frontiers in Developmental Psychology, 8.

Ribner, A. (2020). Executive function facilitates learning from math instruction in kindergarten: Evidence from the ECLS-K. Learning and Instruction, 65.

Antecedents and Consequences of Screen-based Media Use

Electronic screen-based media use is increasingly pervasive in early childhood, and the pace of technological advancement that provides even greater access to screens runs faster than that of research. It is important to consider potential consequences of exposure to screen-based media and characteristics of parents, children, and contexts that predict media use. My work to date has found that in infancy, increased media use is related to decreased sleep and decrements to executive function. In school-aged children, the same patterns hold, whereby increased exposure to screens is associated with poorer school readiness skills, and this relation might be mediated by self-regulatory skills.

Representative Publications

Ribner, A., Coulanges, L., Friedman, S., Libertus, M.E., & i-FAMS Team. (2021). Screen time in the COVID era: International trends of increasing use among 3- to 7-year-old children. The Journal of Pediatrics. Pre-print available here:

Ribner, A., & McHarg, G. (2021). Screens across the pond: Findings from longitudinal screen time research in the US and UK. Infant Behavior and Development.

McHarg, G., Ribner, A., Devine, R.T., & Hughes, C. (2020). Screen time and executive function in toddlerhood: A longitudinal study. Frontiers in Psychology, 11.

McHarg, G., Ribner, A., Devine, R., Hughes, C. & the New Fathers and Mothers Study Team. (2020). Exposure to screen-based media in infancy negatively affects executive functioning in toddlerhood: A propensity score study. Infancy.

Ribner, A., Linebarger, D., & Barr, R. (2020). Media Use and School Readiness Skills: Indirect Effects of Self-Regulation. Pediatric Research.