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Infant Roots of Later Cognition/Executive Functioning

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Susan Rose, Ph.D., Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Yeshiva University

Studies from our lab have identified basic information-processing abilities in infancy that appear to be the building blocks of later cognition. These abilities have proved sensitive to risk for later cognitive compromise and predictive of complex cognitive outcomes. Many of these studies have been longitudinal in nature, following preterms and full-terms from early infancy to later childhood; preterms have served as a prototypic risk factor for later cognitive compromise. The battery of infant tasks, many developed in our lab, has expanded over the years and now encompasses four cognitive domains: memory (recognition, recall, and short-term capacity), attention (look duration, shifting), processing speed (encoding speed, reaction time), and representational competence (cross-modal transfer, object permanence, symbolic play).

The findings thus far indicate that infant measures from all four domains:

  1. are sensitive to prematurity, both in infancy (five, seven, and 12 months) and toddlerhood (two and three years)
  2. showed significant stability from the infant to the toddler period
  3. predict general cognitive ability and language through 11 years; and
  4. mediate the effect of prematurity on later language and IQ.

Factor analyses support the notion that the infant abilities are tapping discrete abilities, a point reinforced by the tendency of these abilities to account for independent variance in later outcomes. We posited that attention and processing speed are primary and found support for this assumption in structural equation models. These models posited a cascade in which attention and speed influence memory and representational competence which, in turn, influences more general cognitive outcomes in toddlerhood (MDI at two and three years). We will speculate on how these basic aspects of information processing might also serve as the pillars of preschool executive functions.

Rose Presentation Slides (PDF - 453 KB)

Biosketch for Susan A. Rose, Ph.D.

Dr. Susan Rose is a Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Dr. Rose has held the Flora F. Stone Visiting Professorship at Case Western Reserve University and invited professorships at the Sorbonne and Wadia Children’s Hospital in Bombay. She was one of the founding members of the International Society for Infant Studies and served on its executive board. She has served on National Institutes of Health and National Institute of Mental Health study sections, on the Executive Committee for the Society for Behavioral Pediatrics, and on the editorial boards of a number of professional journals. Her major research interests are infant cognition, individual differences, cognitive continuity, and cognitive problems in children born at risk (particularly those born preterm). Her work has included seminal studies on infant memory, cross-modal transfer, attention, processing speed, and representational competence in longitudinal studies detailing the role of infant abilities as precursors of later cognition.

Return to Executive Function in Preschool Children: Current Knowledge and Research Opportunities - Agenda page.

Last Reviewed: 11/30/2012
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