Early executive functioning in a global context: Developmental continuity and family protective factors

Document Type



Paediatrics and Child Health


This study extends the methodological and theoretical understanding of executive functions (EFs) in preschoolers from low‐ and middle‐income countries (LMIC). First, the authors describe a rigorous process of adapting and evaluating six EF tasks to produce a culturally and developmentally appropriate measure of emerging EFs in a large sample of at‐risk children in rural Pakistan. Next, the authors identify critical developmental and family factors that relate to preschoolers’ EFs over the first four years of life. Direct assessment of children's general cognitive skills at age two showed developmental continuity with EFs at age four, and these early cognitive skills mediated the effect of an antecedent parenting intervention on EFs as well as associations of targeted individual and family factors with EFs. Further, directly assessed maternal cognitive capacities and observed maternal scaffolding uniquely predicted EFs in preschoolers. This study is also the first to demonstrate a significant overlap between direct assessments of IQ and EFs in young children from LMIC. Children's general intelligence mediated the associations of EFs with antecedent physical growth and cognitive skills as well as concurrent family factors (maternal verbal intelligence, maternal scaffolding, and home stimulation). After controlling for shared variance between preschoolers’ general intelligence and EFs, three factors emerged as unique predictors of EFs: exposure to an early parenting intervention, physical growth status at age two, and number of older siblings. The findings have important implications for the design of interventions that aim to improve EFs in young children in LMIC countries.


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Developmental Science