Prior research has identified the presence of executive function (EF) deficits in child protective service (CPS) involved (versus non-involved) children but minimal work has examined predictors that might explain individual differences within these CPS-involved children. Here, we sought to characterize EF in a large sample (N = 694) of CPS-involved children and examine how specific adversities (physical abuse, neglect, caregiver domestic violence, and caregiver substance dependence) and cumulative adversity (at ages 0–3 and 3–6 years) predict EF (at approximately 5–6 years). It was expected that the sample would exhibit low EF overall based on previous research in maltreated children. Specific adversity and cumulative adversity analyses were largely exploratory given the limited previous work in this area. Results indicated poor EF overall, with 43.5% of children performing worse than chance. Among children who performed greater than chance, higher cumulative adversity, physical abuse, and caregiver substance use (at ages 3–6 years) predicted better EF. These findings join literature documenting that, within CPS-involved children, the presence of certain adversities predicts variable cognitive function. Findings highlight the potential relevance of evolutionary psychology to understanding how alterations in behavior linked to harsh and unpredictable early environments may cue accelerated brain development underlying relative cognitive advantages, within at-risk, low performing samples. Longitudinal studies are critical to determine if the relative EF advantages linked to higher adversity persist over time or result in lower EF later on, reflecting a more rapid, but overall limited, trajectory of cognitive development.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Sociology and Political Science