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Structure, Measurement & Development of Preschool Executive Control

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Kimberly Andrews Espy, Ph.D., University of Nebraska-Lincoln

The integration of structural equation modeling methods and developmental neuroscience methods has yielded new insights into the measurement of executive control in preschoolers and its latent organization. Drawing upon the published results from two independent, large-scale studies of typically developing preschoolers using different executive measures, executive tasks vary in the degree to which they capture the executive construct, and this measurement precision differs somewhat at different ages for different tasks. One advantage of this approach is that measurement variation is modeled explicitly, permitting more stringent evaluation of between group differences. Despite testing competing and alternative models, a unitary model of executive control is the most parsimonious structure in this period of rapid prefrontal development. This unitary model has demonstrated validity and utility, for example, strongly predicting problem behavior and mathematic achievement. Despite the unitary model, there is substantial individual variation in the level and rate of development of the latent executive control abilities during the preschool period. One particularly vexing and unanswered question is how the unitary structure observed in preschool unfolds developmentally to the more differentiated three-factor structure reported in older school-age children and adults.

Espy Presentation Slides (PDF - 19 MB)

Biosketch for Kimberly Andrews Espy, Ph.D.

Dr. Kimberly Andrews Espy is a Charles Bessey Professor and Professor of Psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and serves as the Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and as Acting Dean of Graduate Studies. Trained as a clinical neuroscientist, her research broadly focuses on identifying the antecedents of learning and behavioral disorders. She has pioneered the integration of cognitive neuroscience tools and advanced multilevel growth modeling methods to characterize the normative development of emergent self-regulation skills in young children and infants, and also has examined how such processes go awry in medically at-risk populations. Dr. Espy received the Rita G. Rudel Award for Pediatric Neuropsychology/Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience and the Early Career Award from Division 40 of the American Psychological Association; she also was selected as a Fellow of the same division. She completed her term as a chartered member and Chair of the National Institutes of Health study section, Child Psychopathology and Developmental Disabilities, in 2009.

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Last Updated Date: 11/30/2012
Last Reviewed Date: 11/30/2012
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