Poverty, Parent Stress, and Emerging Executive Functions in Young Children

  • Eric D. FinegoodEmail author
  • Clancy Blair


Executive functions are higher-order cognitive abilities that support decision-making, reasoning, planning, reflective processes, and abstract thinking. Recent work suggests that the development of these abilities in early life is, in part, socially mediated—that the emergence of executive functions across childhood is partially organized by children’s relationships with other individuals, and with relationships to caregivers in particular. Using the basic association between the development of executive functions and children’s relationships with caregivers as a starting point, this chapter seeks to better understand the broader association observed across many studies between one of the most clearly stressful contexts for parents—poverty—and executive function development in children. Specifically, this chapter considers the extent to which the immediate caregiving environments of children can be viewed as a mediator of the relation between the socioeconomic conditions of families and children’s executive function development. In doing so, this chapter also considers several aspects of the caregiving environment that may be influenced by the context of poverty (e.g., parents’ own stress processes and behaviors with children, the home learning environment, and parents’ own cognitive and biobehavioral regulation) that are also presumed to shape children’s neurocognitive growth. Future directions emphasize the need for more experimental work in this area of research, the need for more research that distinguishes specific parent stress processes related to children’s executive function development in the context of poverty, and the need to consider the larger socioecological contexts in which children and families are embedded to understand the etiology and development of family stress processes related to children’s emerging self-regulation.


Executive function Poverty Parenting Stress HPA axis Caregiving Self-regulation 


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Applied PsychologyNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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