Can attention span in infancy predict later executive function? (Best Evidence in Brief)

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief with some interesting studies, such as this one, although I do think it can be regarded in part for an extra argument that executive functions (note the plural) are heavily influenced by nature:

Infant attention skills are significantly related to preschool executive function at age three, according to a new study published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine.

One hundred and fourteen children took part in the study. Jessica H. Kraybill and colleagues measured children’s attention at five months by using parental-report questionnaires and by assessing look duration and shifting rate while the children watched a video clip. Children’s single longest continuous look and the number of shifts of gaze at the video were recorded. Shorter looking durations were taken as an indication of better information processing, and high shift rates typically represent better attention. The performance on four different executive function tasks for these same children was then measured when they were three years old.

Results indicated that higher attention at age five was related to higher executive function at age three (effect size = + 0.05), supporting the notion that attention span in infancy may serve as an early marker of later executive function.

The authors measured character strengths by the Value in Action Inventory of Strengths for Youth (VIA-Youth), and positive classroom behaviors with the Classroom Behavior Rating Scale (CBRS), which cover positive achievement-related behavior and positive social behavior. For primary students, achievement was obtained by teacher ratings; for secondary students, the schools’ administration offices provided their grades. The findings showed that:

  • Perseverance, prudence, hope, social intelligence, and self-regulation were positively related to positive classroom behavior for both primary and secondary students.
  • Perseverance, prudence, hope, love of learning, perspective, zest, and gratitude were positively related to school achievement for both primary and secondary students.
  • Perseverance, prudence, and hope were associated with both positive classroom behavior and school achievement across primary and secondary sectors.
According to the authors, these findings indicate there is a rather distinct set of strengths most relevant in schools. The authors also suggest that further research could explore whether teachers and students value these strengths.

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