This study examined whether cognitive processes in preschool, conceptualized as a unitary construct of executive control (EC) as well as foundational cognitive abilities (FCA), predict both maladaptive and adaptive functioning in middle childhood and mediate associations between early childhood socio-familial stress and those functional outcomes. Performance-based, multidimensional, and age-appropriate measures of EC and FCA were collected in a laboratory setting from 313 preschool-age children at age 5, along with questionnaire data from children and their parents on three dimensions of early socio-familial stress and parent smoking. Parent, teacher, and child self-report data on 285 of these children were obtained when they were in grade 3 or 4. Middle childhood data were used to create indices of maladaptive and adaptive functioning. A bi-factor structural equation modeling analysis captured distinct dimensions of preschool EC and FCA and was used to test the hypothesized pathways. EC had a statistically significant negative association with later maladaptive functioning. FCA, but not EC, served as a mediator in links between each type of family stressor and both maladaptive and adaptive functioning in middle childhood. Results suggest that EC may play a role in predicting maladaptation, whereas early childhood FCA may operate as an intervening variable in pathways from early family stressors to subsequent maladaptation as well as adaptation. Findings point to the need to address FCA by reducing early family stressors. Early interventions that enhance cognitive abilities may help reduce maladaptive and promote adaptive functioning later in childhood, thereby potentially preventing, in turn, later behavioral problems.
- Adaptive functioning
- Executive control
- Foundational cognitive abilities
- Maladaptive functioning
- Socio-familial stress
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health