The primary objectives of the present study were to determine empirically the structure and organization of three executive function (EF) factors - Working Memory, Shifting, and Verbal Fluency - and to examine concurrent associations between EF and subclinical internalizing and externalizing behavior problems in a sample of children and adolescents 7 to 18 years of age (M = 11.43 years, SD = 3.43). Additionally, developmental differences in associations between EF and psychosocial functioning were investigated by comparing latent factor organization across age-based sub-groups.
Data were collected from a large, nationally-representative sample of healthy children and adolescents (N = 352), and analyzed at the level of latent constructs rather than observed (i.e., manifest) variables. Results of a series of confirmatory factor analyses (CFA) revealed that a three-factor, fully intercorrelated solution provided the best fit to the available data, thus supporting a conceptualization of working memory, shifting, and verbal fluency as distinct yet related higher-order cognitive processes. Additional CFAs were then conducted to assess the impact of non-executive control variables - crystallized verbal intelligence and processing speed - on the latent factor structure of EF. Although both control factors accounted for significant variance in all EF measures, non-executive skills could not account entirely for performance on EF tasks. Furthermore, the inclusion of control variables differentially impacted latent factor structure, highlighting the utility of partitioning non-executive variance for understanding the organization of EF.
FAs examining associations between EF factors and psychosocial functioning revealed that individual differences in certain domains of EF track meaningfully and in expected directions with subclinical emotional and behavioral problems. Externalizing difficulties, in particular, were more reliably predicted by Working Memory and Verbal Fluency factors, although these domains of functioning did account for marginally significant portions of variance in Internalizing problems as well. Finally, looking across developmental sub-groups, results failed to reveal a consistent pattern of interrelations between latent EF and emotional/behavioral problems factors. Nonetheless, there was at least some evidence that EF becomes increasingly relevant to psychosocial functioning across childhood/adolescence, particularly with respect to Internalizing difficulties. Findings are discussed in terms of basic and clinical implications, as well as directions for future research.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2010. Advisors:Nicki R. Crick, Ph.D.,Monica Luciana, Ph.D. 1 computer file (PDF); ix, 133 pages.
Cassidy, Adam R..
Unity and diversity of executive functioning across childhood and adolescence: Latent factor structure and associations with subclinical emotional and behavioral problems..
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