Boys have not caught up, family influences still continue: Influences on executive functioning and behavioral self-regulation in elementary students in Germany

Catherine Gunzenhauser, Henrik Saalbach, Antje von Suchodoletz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The development of self-regulation is influenced by various child-level and family-level characteristics. Previous research focusing on the preschool period reported a female advantage in self-regulation and negative effects of various adverse features of the family environment on self-regulation. The present study aimed to investigate growth in self-regulation (i.e., executive functioning and behavioral self-regulation) over 1 school year during early elementary school and to explore the influences of child sex, the level of home chaos, and family educational resources on self-regulation. Participants were 263 German children (51% girls; mean age 8.59 years, SD = 0.56 years). Data were collected during the fall and spring of the school year. A computer-based standardized test battery was used to assess executive functioning. Caregiver ratings assessed children's behavioral self-regulation and information on the family's home environment (chaotic home environment and educational resources). Results suggest growth in elementary school children's executive functioning over the course of the school year. However, there were no significant changes in children's behavioral self-regulation between the beginning and the end of Grade 3. Sex differences in inhibitory control/cognitive flexibility and behavioral self-regulation were found, suggesting an advantage for girls. Educational resources in the family but not chaotic family environment were significantly related to self-regulation at both time-points. Children from families with more educational resources scored higher on self-regulation measures compared to their counterparts from less advantaged families. We did not find evidence for child-level or family-level characteristics predicting self-regulation growth over time. Findings add to the evidence of a gender gap in self-regulation skills, but suggest that it might not further widen towards the end of elementary school age. Adequate self-regulation skills should be fostered in both girls and boys. Results also add to the importance of supporting self-regulation development in children from disadvantaged family backgrounds early in life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)205-221
Number of pages17
JournalPsyCh Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2017


  • behavioral self-regulation
  • elementary school
  • executive functioning
  • family background
  • sex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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