Numerous studies support the essential role of executive function (EF) in child development, particularly for children growing up in contexts of risk and adversity. Recent research has begun to elucidate the intergenerational and interpersonal processes that result in individual differences in EF, including the impact of adult EF on parenting quality and parenting quality on child EF. However, studies conducted in high-risk populations suggest that these processes may be disrupted by the stress associated with poverty and other adverse circumstances. The purpose of the present study was to investigate the intergenerational continuity of EF in parents and children living in emergency homeless shelters, as well the processes that might explain or account for this continuity. The study included 105 families with children between the ages of 4 and 6. Parents and children each completed a battery of IQ and both hot and cool EF tasks, as well an observational assessment of harsh and positive parenting. Parents also completed a measure of perceived stress for the past month. Regression-based conditional process analysis revealed a direct statistical effect of parent cool EF on child cool EF, as well as an indirect effect resulting from their shared relationship with harsh parenting. However, this indirect effect was only significant for families of parents reporting high levels of stress. Additional exploratory analyses suggested the presence of an indirect effect of parent hot EF on child hot EF through positive parenting, with no moderating effects for parent stress. Study results support previous theory and research suggesting a critical role for parenting in the development of child EF, as well as the importance of investigating developmental processes in high-risk populations.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. July 2015. Major: Child Psychology. Advisor: Ann Masten. 1 computer file (PDF); vi, 92 pages.
Intergenerational processes in homeless families linking parent executive function, parenting quality, and child executive function.
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