Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Parenting, Family Socioeconomic Status, and Child Executive Functioning: A Longitudinal Study

Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Parenting, Family Socioeconomic Status, and Child Executive Functioning: A Longitudinal Study

Article excerpt

The preschool period is marked by quick, important changes in the control of thought and action (Zelazo & Jacques, 1996). Theory and empirical research strongly suggest that these changes can be explained, in part, by the development of executive functioning (EF), which refers to the set of higher-order cognitive processes that underlie flexible goal-directed behavior, such as working memory, set shifting, inhibitory control, and planning (Garon, Bryson, & Smith, 2008). Several studies have demonstrated that child performance on EF tasks clusters in factors (e.g., Garon et al., 2008), with a two-factor structure often reported among toddlers and preschoolers (see Beck, Schaefer, Pang, & Carlson, 2011): Impulse Control, which is the ability to delay or suppress an impulsive response, and Conflict EF, the ability to respond appropriately in the face of a salient conflicting response option. As noted by Zelazo, Carlson, and Kesek (2008), the literature on child EF has exploded in the last decade. A great deal has thus been learned, for instance regarding the brain structures implicated in EF (Anderson, Jacobs, & Anderson, 2008), age-related changes in early EF (Zelazo et al., 2008), the measurement of EF in the preschool period (Carlson, 2005), and correlates of child EF (e.g., Blair & Razza, 2007). In contrast, as highlighted by Hughes and Ensor (2005,2009), studies on how the environment impacts the development of child EF are still relatively rare.

One of the few identified antecedents of individual differences in child EF is family socioeconomic status (SES): Children from higher-SES families consistently perform better on EF tasks (e.g., Ardila, Rosselli, Matute, & Guajardo, 2005; Hughes & Ensor, 2009; Mezzacappa, 2004; Noble, Norman, & Farah, 2005; Raver, Blair, & Willoughby, 2013). Studies finding similar links between family SES and other aspects of child cognition (see Bradley & Corwyn, 2002) have triggered the question of how such a distal concept as SES may influence child performance on specific cognitive tasks. It is thus advocated that research identifies proximal factors more likely to "reach" the child (Bradley & Corwyn, 2002; McLoyd, 1998). Quality of parenting has begun to be identified as a proximal antecedent of child EF (e.g., Bernier, Carlson, & Whipple, 2010). Importantly, high-quality parenting has also long been recognized as a buffer against the negative influence of socioeconomic disadvantage on many aspects of child functioning (e.g., Masten, 1994). The relations of SES and parenting to child EF are, therefore, likely to be nonindependent, but this has yet to be investigated. Accordingly, the primary goal of this report is to examine the interactions between family SES and the quality of early maternal behavior in the prediction of child subsequent EF performance.

Family Socioeconomic Status and Child Executive Functioning

The idea that family SES has a crucial influence on child development is not new. The mechanisms through which it can affect child development are illustrated by the idea of capital (Coleman, 1988; McLoyd & Ceballo, 1998). It is proposed that the more access families have to different types of capital (financial capital such as income, and human capital such as education), the better equipped they are to provide a rich environment, which is favorable to optimal child development (Hoff-Ginsberg & Tardif, 1995; Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000; Yeung, Linver, & Brooks-Gunn, 2002). In contrast, there is concern that many children growing up in lower-SES families have more limited access to these same material and human resources, which may place them at risk for developmental problems (Brooks-Gunn & Duncan, 1997).

Consistent with these theoretical claims, decades of research with vulnerable families confirm that lower family SES (e.g., economic disadvantage and/or lower levels of parental education) is associated with developmental risk in health, cognitive, and socioemotional domains, which can begin as early as pregnancy and continue into adulthood (Bradley & Corwyn, 2002; Conger & Donnellan, 2007; Duncan, ZiolGuest, & Kalil, 2010). …

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