Leve, L. D., DeGarmo, D. S., Bridgett, D. J., Neiderhiser, J. M., Shaw, D. J., Harold, G. T., Natsuaki, M., & Reiss, D. (2013). Using an adoption design to separate genetic, prenatal, and temperament influences on toddler’s executive function. Developmental Psychology, 49, 1045-1057. PMC: 3509265
Abstract: Poor executive functioning has been implicated in children’s concurrent and future behavioral difficulties, making work aimed at understanding processes related to the development of early executive function (EF) critical for models of developmental psychopathology. Deficits in EF have been associated with adverse prenatal experiences, genetic influences, and temperament characteristics. However, our ability to disentangle the predictive and independent effects of these influences has been limited by a dearth of genetically-informed research designs that also consider prenatal influences. The present study examined EF and language development in a sample of 361 toddlers who were adopted at birth and reared in non-relative adoptive families. Predictors included genetic influences (as inherited from birth mothers), prenatal risk, and growth in child negative emotionality. Structural equation modeling indicated that the effect of prenatal risk on toddler effortful attention at age 27 months became nonsignificant once genetic influences were considered in the model. In addition, genetic influences had unique effects on toddler effortful attention. Latent growth modeling indicated that increases in toddler negative emotionality from 9 to 27 months were associated with poorer delay of gratification and poorer language development. Similar results were obtained in models incorporating birth father data. Mechanisms of intergenerational transmission of EF deficits are discussed.