Executive function, chaos and temperament: Specifcities in preschoolers with externalizing behaviors

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Abstract

Various factors may contribute to the emergence of externalizing behavior (EB) problems in the preschool period. At the child level, temperament and executive function (EF) seem to play an important role, as well as environmental variables such as household chaos. In this study, we examined the profles of 49 EB preschoolers compared to 49 typically developing (TD) preschoolers matched on age and gender. To evaluate the behavioral aspect of EB, we asked teachers and parents to fll out questionnaires, but we also used an observational paradigm. We assessed executive functions using attention, inhibition, flexibility and working memory tests. Finally, we used questionnaires to assess household chaos and child temperament. Results showed that children rated by parents as presenting EB were also assessed so by teachers and exhibited more agitation in our observational paradigm. As expected, EB children also presented weaker performance than the TD children in all EF tasks, except those measuring attention, and showed a larger reaction-time variability. Parents of the EB group reported a more chaotic environment at home. Finally, we found that child temperament (i.e., emotionality) also plays a role in group belonging. This study shows that EB children already exhibit specifc characteristics by the time they are of preschool age, not only in the behavioral sphere, but also in the cognitive and environmental areas. However, despite all the differences between the two groups, a discriminant analysis showed that EF capacities have a weak power for EB diagnosis.

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Volckaert, A., & Noël, M. P. (2018). Executive function, chaos and temperament: Specifcities in preschoolers with externalizing behaviors. Psychologica Belgica, 58(1), 222–242. https://doi.org/10.5334/pb.352

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