Adolescence is characterized by a relative immaturity of the prefrontal cortex and associated cognitive control functions, which is hypothesized to be a major contributing factor to high-risk behaviors. However, little is known about the role of genetic and environmental factors in frontal brain development during adolescence. Here we examined heritability of performance on the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST), an established neuropsychological measure of prefrontally mediated executive functioning, in a longitudinal sample of adolescent twins (n = 747) tested at ages 12 and 14. WSCT performance significant improved with age as indicated by a decrease in the number of perseverative errors (p < 0.001), which was paralleled by an increase in heritability in females (19% at age 12 and 49% at age 14) and shared environmental influences in males (non-significant at age 12 and 34% at age 14). The results suggest increasing influence of familial factors on frontal executive functioning during adolescence, as well as gender differences in the relative role of genetic and environmental factors.
- Neuropsychological function