Preschool Executive Control and Internalizing Symptoms in Elementary School

Timothy D. Nelson, Katherine M. Kidwell, Jennifer Mize Nelson, Cara C. Tomaso, Maren Hankey, Kimberly Andrews Espy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Depression and anxiety are prevalent and impairing forms of psychopathology in children and adolescents. Deficits in early executive control (EC) may contribute to the development of these problems, but longitudinal studies with rigorous measurement across key developmental periods are limited. The current study examines EC in preschool as a predictor of subsequent depression and anxiety symptoms in elementary school in a community sample (N = 280). Child participants completed a battery of nine developmentally-appropriate tasks designed to measure major aspects of EC at age 5 years, 3 months. Children later participated in an elementary school follow-up phase, during which they completed validated norm-referenced self-report questionnaires of depression and anxiety symptoms in fourth grade. Results indicate that poorer preschool EC was significantly associated with both greater depression and anxiety symptoms in elementary school, controlling for baseline depression and anxiety symptoms in preschool and other relevant variables. These findings suggest that poor EC may be an important risk factor for the development of internalizing psychopathology in childhood. Given emerging evidence for the modifiability of EC, particularly in preschool, EC promotion interventions may hold promise as a potential target in psychopathology prevention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1509-1520
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Elementary school
  • Executive control
  • Preschool

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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