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Executive Function and Trajectories of Emotion Dysregulation in Children with Parent-Reported Behavior Problems

Abstract

The current study examined whether a variety of dimensions of executive function predicted trajectories of emotion dysregulation among preschool children with behavior problems. This study focused on 199 3-year-old children with parent-reported behavior problems who took part in a larger longitudinal study. Results revealed that response inhibition and working memory were not predictive of later emotion dysregulation. Gender differences emerged for delay aversion and attentional control. Boys who performed better on delay aversion tasks exhibited lower emotion dysregulation related to threat 2 years later, whereas girls who performed better on delay aversion tasks exhibited higher threat-related emotion dysregulation 2 years later. Better performance on a visual attention task significantly predicted decreasing threat-related emotion dysregulation slopes for boys but not for girls. Finally, girls who made more omission errors on a continuous performance task exhibited higher emotion dysregulation related to frustrative-nonreward 2 years later. Results suggest that specific facets of executive function may play an important role in difficulties with emotion dysregulation during the preschool years and that this pattern may differ across boys and girls.

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Notes

  1. For the larger study, a separate version of the BASC for school-aged children was given at Time 4 when children were 6 years old; data from this version were not used in the present study because the BASC items differed from those on the preschool version, and there were not sufficient items that overlapped between the two versions. Thirty-two participants had just turned 6 by the time they could be scheduled at Time 3. For the present study, their Time 3 BASC-PRS scores were not used and instead treated as missing data.

  2. We conducted follow-up analyses to test whether one component of the Delay composite measure was driving the significant interaction. In predicting Threat Emotion Dysregulation intercepts, the Gender X M&M® interaction (γ = .12, SE = .04, p = .003) and Gender X Present Delay interaction (γ = .06, SE = .04, p = .125) were in the same direction, but only the former reached significance. Similarly, for boys, the relation between the M&M® task and Threat Emotion Dysregulation intercepts (γ = −.09, SE = .04, p = .015) and the relation between the Present Delay and Threat Emotion Dysregulation intercepts (γ = −.06, SE = .03, p = .081) were in the same direction, but only the former reached significance. For girls, neither the relation between the M&M® task and Threat Emotion Dysregulation intercepts (γ = .05, SE = .03, p = .067) nor the relation between the Present Delay and Threat Emotion Dysregulation intercepts (γ = .02, SE = .03, p = .521) were significant even though the relation was significant for the Delay composite. Thus, coefficients for the M&M® and Present Delay tasks varied in significance, and this pattern may vary across gender; however, the magnitude of the differences between the M&M® and Present Delay task coefficients were small and would require a much larger sample to have sufficient power to determine if these coefficients are significantly different from each other.

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Correspondence to Elizabeth A. Harvey.

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This research was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (R01 MH60132) awarded to the third author.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Binder, A.S., Brown, H.R. & Harvey, E.A. Executive Function and Trajectories of Emotion Dysregulation in Children with Parent-Reported Behavior Problems. J Abnorm Child Psychol 48, 481–493 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-019-00616-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-019-00616-4

Keywords

  • Emotion dysregulation
  • Executive function
  • Preschool-aged children
  • Behavior problems