This presentation highlighted the important roles of the family environment and child negative emotionality in increasing or buffering risk for deficits in executive function (EF) during early childhood. Results from two study designs that offer unique insight into specific family environmental influences linked to EF during early childhood were presented: the prospective adoption design, where infants are placed at birth with non-relative caregivers and data from birth parents are also available, and foster care studies of children who have experienced maltreatment during early childhood. In the adoption design, the effects of the family environment can be disentangled from the effects of genes shared between the parent and child, and genetic influences can be examined through the assessment of birth parent characteristics. Further, the moderating role of the family environment in offsetting or exacerbating genetic influences can be examined, thereby providing insight into mechanisms of risk and protection that reside within the family context. In the foster care design, the effects of more severe environmental adversities such as maltreatment and multiple caregiver transitions on EF can be examined by comparing measures of EF between children in foster care and non-maltreated, low-income community children. Together, results from these complementary research designs illustrate the significant impact of the family environment on the development of EF in early childhood, and suggest possible avenues for improving EF skills in young children in the context of suboptimal environmental and/or genetic influences.
Leve Presentation Slides (PDF - 715 KB)
Dr. Leslie Leve is a Senior Scientist and Science Director at the Oregon Social Learning Center and a Senior Scientist at the Center for Research to Practice. Her research focuses on understanding family influences on child and adolescent development using a combination of intervention studies aimed at testing prevention effects and adoption studies aimed at examining the interplay between genetic and family environmental influences. Dr. Leve has been an investigator on more than a dozen research grants funded by the National Institutes of Health and directs several prevention intervention trials with children in foster care.
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