The Assessment of Executive Functioning Using the Barkley Deficits in Executive Functioning Scales



The assessment of executive functioning (EF) has been plagued by several problems, not the least of which is the lack of any consensus definition for the term itself (Castellanos, Sonuga-Barke, Milham, & Tannock, 2006). Despite frequent use of the term in various research papers and books over the past 40 years since the term was first coined by Pribram in 1973, more than 30 definitions exist for the term (Barkley, 2012a) and at least as many different constructs have been placed under it, making it more akin to an “umbrella” term or meta-construct (Eslinger, 1996). Typically, reviews of the scientific findings on EF often sidestep the problem of definition and simply list those constructs thought to be included in the term, such as inhibition, working memory, planning, and problem-solving (Frazier, Demareem, & Youngstrom, 2004; Hervey, Epstein, & Curry, 2004; Willcutt, Doyle, Nigg, Faraone, & Pennington, 2005). The reviews then discuss findings with regard to measures of these constructs without further consideration for the rather glaring problem of specifying just what makes these constructs representative of EF while other neuropsychological functions are not so classified. What specific, operational criterion can be used to determine what mental functions are or are not EF? To my knowledge, none have previously existed. Declaring that EF is what the prefrontal cortex (PFC) does is unhelpful as this simply refers to a different level of analysis at the neurological level rather than defining the term properly at the neuropsychological one, thus conflating two distinct levels of scientific analysis (Denckla, 1996). It is also prone to circularity of argument, in that EF is stated to be what the PFC does and then declaring that what the PFC does is EF.


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Executive Functioning Life Activity Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Symptom Daily Life Activity 
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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Medical University of South CarolinaCharlestonUSA

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