Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2017

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors



First Advisor

Yuko Munkata

Second Advisor

Richard Olson

Third Advisor

Rolf Norgaard

Fourth Advisor

Jane Barker


Little is known about how environments might support or hinder children’s developing ability to engage executive functions (EFs) in a self-directed way, without reminders from adults about what they should do, and when. Parents spend a great deal of time with their children early in development. One possibility is that specific parenting behaviors support children’s autonomous decision making facilitating improvements in children’s self-directed EF. To test this possibility, this study investigated the relationship between parenting behavior and children’s self-directed EF using the Colorado Longitudinal Twin Sample. Maternal intrusiveness, detachment, and affective involvement were coded from a co-play construction task that mothers completed with their children at age 5. Self-directed EF was measured when the same children were ages 4 and 7 via a semantic verbal fluency (VF) task. In this task, children attempt to generate examples of a category and can decide on their own when to switch from one subcategory to another. In a series of linear regression models, no significant relationships were observed between children’s self-directed EF and maternal intrusiveness, detachment, or other affective behaviors. These null results are interpreted in light of questions related to construct validity for the present measures of maternal autonomy support. Future research addressing these complex questions regarding environmental influences on child self-directedness may benefit from attention to methodological and measurement development.