Using Repeated-Measures Data to Make Stronger Tests of the Association between Executive Function Skills and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Symptomatology in Early Childhood

Michael T. Willoughby, Amanda C. Wylie, Clancy B. Blair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Theoretical models of Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have long implicated executive function (EF) skills as contributing to the etiology, maintenance, and changes in ADHD symptomatology over time. Although there is interest making within-person inferences (i.e., deficits in EF skills give rise to ADHD behaviors), most of the evidence has been derived from studies that conflated between- and within-person sources of variance. Here, we use repeated-measures data to test within-person association between EF skills and ADHD behaviors. Participants included 1160 children from the Family Life Project, an ongoing prospective longitudinal study of child development in low-income, nonmetropolitan communities. We tested the magnitude of the association between EF skills and ADHD behaviors when children were 3, 4, and 5 years old. Consistent with meta-analyses, unadjusted bivariate associations between EF and ADHD (which reflect combined between- and within-person variation) were of moderate magnitude (rs = −0.20 to −0.30). However, after controlling for all time-invariant, between-person sources of variation, the within-person associations between EF skills and ADHD behaviors were weak (βs − 0.04 to −0.05, ps = 0.01). These results suggest that EF skills may contribute less prominently to ADHD behaviors in early childhood than is commonly assumed and provoke broader questions about developmental models of ADHD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1759-1770
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Volume47
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019

Keywords

  • Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Early childhood
  • Executive function
  • Fixed-effects analysis
  • Structural equation modeling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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