Measuring executive function interests researchers and practitioners in a number of psychological fields. Self-report measures of executive problems may have considerable value, especially for research conducted via the internet. They are easier to implement online than traditional cognitive tests, and arguably have greater ecological validity as indices of everyday problems. However, there are questions about whether they actually measure executive function, or other constructs such as personality.
Relationships between self-reported executive problems, personality, and cognitive performance were assessed in three correlational studies using non-clinical samples. In Study 1, 49,398 participants completed online measures of personality and self-reported executive problems. In Study 2, 345 participants additionally completed an online Digit Span task. In Study 3, 103 participants in a traditional laboratory setting completed multiple measures of personality, self-reported executive problems, and objective cognitive tests.
Across all three studies, self-reported problems correlated with neuroticism and with low conscientiousness, with medium to large effect sizes. However self-reported problems did not correlate with performance on Trail Making, Phonemic Fluency, Semantic Fluency or Digit Span tests tapping aspects of executive function. These findings raise questions about self-report measures of executive problems, both on the internet and offline.