Sustained attention in infancy: A foundation for the development of multiple aspects of self-regulation for children in poverty

Annie Brandes-Aitken, Stephen Braren, Margaret Swingler, Kristin Voegtline, Clancy Blair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There are many avenues by which early life poverty relates to the development of school readiness. Few studies, however, have examined the extent to which sustained attention, a central component of self-regulation in infancy, mediates relations between poverty-related risk and cognitive and emotional self-regulation at school entry. To investigate longitudinal relations among poverty-related risk, sustained attention in infancy, and self-regulation prior to school entry, we analyzed data from the Family Life Project, a large prospective longitudinal sample (N = 1292)of children and their primary caregivers in predominantly low-income and nonurban communities. We used structural equation modeling to assess the extent to which a latent variable of infant sustained attention, measured in a naturalistic setting, mediated the associations between cumulative poverty-related risk and three domains of self-regulation. We constructed a latent variable of infant sustained attention composed of a measure of global sustained attention and a task-based sustained attention measure at 7 and 15 months of age. Results indicated that infant sustained attention was negatively associated with poverty-related risk and positively associated with a direct assessment of executive function abilities and teacher-reported effortful control and emotion regulation in pre-kindergarten. Mediation analysis indicated that the association between poverty-related risk and each self-regulation outcome was partially mediated by infant attention. These results provide support for a developmental model of self-regulation whereby attentional abilities in infancy act as a mechanism linking the effects of early-life socioeconomic adversity with multiple aspects of self-regulation in early childhood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)192-209
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of experimental child psychology
StatePublished - Aug 2019


  • Attention
  • Emotion Regulation
  • Executive function
  • Infancy
  • Poverty
  • Self-regulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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