A Comparison of Task-Based and Questionnaire Assessments of Executive Control Aspects in Relation to Adolescent Marijuana Initiation


  • Ying Guo University of Tennessee Health Science Center
  • Charles Fleming Center for the Study of Health and Risk Behaviors, University of Washington
  • Irina Patwardhan Child and Family Translational Research Center, Boys Town
  • Tiffany James Office of Research and Economic Development, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Jennifer Nelson Office of Research and Economic Development, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Kimberly Espy Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, University of Texas at San Antonio
  • Timothy Nelson Department of Psychology, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Alex Mason Department of Preventive Medicine, University of Tennessee Health Science Center


Prior research has linked deficits in executive control (EC) to marijuana use in adolescents but has relied either primarily on adolescent self-report of EC or tasked-based EC, and focused on limited aspects of EC, usually inhibitory control. We examined unique associations of three established aspects of EC (inhibitory control, working memory, and flexible shifting) assessed with both performance on laboratory tasks and self-report in relation to marijuana initiation. Participants were 260 youth (ages 14-18 years) from a small Midwestern city in the United States enrolled in the adolescent phase (beginning in 2017) of an ongoing study of EC development recruited originally between 2006 and 2012 (46% male, 72% European American). The three aspects of executive control were measured in a laboratory setting with well-established performance-based measures and with a psychometrically-sound self-report survey instrument. Youth also provided self-report of marijuana initiation in a phone survey administered during their laboratory visit. Multiple logistic regression analysis indicated that flexible shifting as measured by a performance-based task was negatively and uniquely associated with marijuana initiation (AOR = 0.68, 95% CI = 0.48 – 0.91), and self-reported deficits in inhibitory control were positively associated with marijuana initiation (AOR = 1.92, 95% CI = 1.15 – 3.21). Although larger-scale longitudinal research is needed, findings of this study suggest that screening efforts to identify youth at risk of marijuana initiation might rely on more cost-effective self-report assessment of inhibitory control, but further valuable information can come from more resource-intensive but sensitive performance-based assessment of flexible shifting. 






Original Report