The role of executive function, learning disabilities risk, and IQ in preschool misconduct
The present study was designed to examine relationships between conduct problems and various aspects of young children's executive functioning and learning. Early difficulties in these areas may affect children's later school achievement, social adjustment, and ability to organize and modulate their behavior. Subjects included 80 four and five year old children participating in a longitudinal study of emotion regulation, whose behavior was rated by their mothers on measures assessing overall behavior problems and degree of undercontrol. About 2/3 of the subjects were boys, while the remaining 1/3 were girls. Experimental tasks included a variety of tasks to assess executive function, a standardized measure of cognitive ability, and a screening test of risk for learning disabilities. Performance on these measures was used to predict membership in three groups based on degree of misconduct and, in a separate analysis, to predict membership in three groups based on degree of undercontrol. These analyses were undertaken to assist in identifying some of the factors which may coexist with and potentially predispose a child to significant adjustment difficulties later in development. It was discovered that all but one of the executive function measures cohered in one principal component. This suggests that they may tap a common domain. Using executive function, LD risk, and IQ, it was possible to predict membership in three groups based upon degree of misconduct. The executive function variables were especially helpful in differentiating the group with the highest level of misconduct from groups with moderate and low levels of misconduct. Groups based upon degree of undercontrol could not be successfully discriminated from each other by the predictor variables. Risk for learning disabilities contributed to the prediction of misconduct group membership but not to predicting groups based on degree of undercontrol. Although it was expected to be relatively independent of executive function, IQ was found to be related to executive function as well as to LD risk. IQ contributed significantly to prediction of misconduct groups but not to prediction of groups based on degree of undercontrol.