The Relationship Between
Preschool Executive
Function Skills and Oral
Narrative Skills
By: Kathleen Trainor
What are Executive Functions?

High-Order Cognitive Operations
 Cognitive Processes



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Attention
Inhibition
Working Memory
Components

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
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Goal Selection
Planning/Organizing
Initiation/Persistence
Flexibility
Execution/Goal Attainment
Self-Regulation
Development of Executive Functions
 Birth
to mid-20s
 Preschool Executive Function Development




Attentional Control
Cognitive Flexibility
Information Processing
Goal Setting
Executive Function Development In
Preschoolers
Senn, Espy, and Kaufmann (2004)
117 children: ages 2;8 – 6;0
 4 executive function tasks measuring underlying cognitive
processes and early EF components:
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


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Working memory (Delayed alternation task)
Inhibition (Shape School)
Flexibility (Spatial Reversal)
Problem solving/planning (Tower of Hanoi)
Path analysis used to identify correlation between these skills
Results:


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Correlation between working memory and inhibition
Working memory and inhibition were interpreted as key skills
necessary for early problem solving
NO correlation was found between early flexibility and early problemsolving/planning skills
Executive Function Development in
Preschoolers
Isquith, Gioia, and Espy (2004)

Authors previously developed the BRIEF, a rating scale of
observable EF behaviors in children ages 5-18.

Within BRIEF, EF behaviors converged onto 5 components:
 Inhibition, Shifting, Emotional Control, Working Memory, & Planning/
Organizing

Development of preschool EF rating:
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

Results:



201 children, ages 2-5 years
Ratings of preschool children’s EF behavior by parents and teachers
5 EF components found in the BRIEF, converged into only 3 within
the BRIEF-Preschool:
Inhibition/Inhibitory self control index, Flexibility Index, and Emergent
Metacognition Index
Metacognitive abilities were poorly differentiated
Executive Functions (& Language)
Carlson, Davis, and Leach (2005)



101 typically developing children ages 3- and 4-years old
PPVT-3
“Less is More” task


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Ability to inhibit initial response while holding rules in mind
Altered pictures in order to establish importance of symbolic
representation on inhibitory skills
Results:


Significant correlation between Less is More task and PPVT-3
3-year-olds were significantly less accurate in inhibiting initial
response, in comparison to 4-year olds
Executive Functions (& Language)
Carlson (2005)


602 children, ages: 1;10 – 6;11
24 executive function tasks



PPVT-3
Examined developmental progression inhibition and
working memory


Primarily inhibition and working memory
Associated with expected language development
Results:



Significant relationship between scores on the PPVT-3 and
number of EF tasks the children passed.
Performance on majority of tasks showed significant age-related
improvement on inhibitory and working memory skills
Most difficult tasks for all age groups were those which
combined inhibitory and working memory demands
Research Questions

What is the relationship between receptive
vocabulary skills as measured by the PPVT
and executive functions as measured by the
parental report on the BRIEF–P ?

What is the relationship between language
skills in narrative form obtained from the
Renfrew Bus Story and executive functions as
measured by the parental report on the
BRIEF–P?
Subjects
 19
preschool children: 12 male; 7 female
 Ages 4;3 to 5;3. Mean=4;10
 Not previously diagnosed with a language
disorder
 Attending a private preschool in Central
Illinois
Assessment Tools

Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-4

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Receptive language
Renfrew Bus Story

Story retelling task: oral narrative
• Informational Content
• Sentence Length

Behavioral Rating Inventory of Executive
Functions – Preschool edition

Parents’ rating of executive function ability
•
•
•
•

Inhibitory Self-control Index – ISCI
Flexibility Index – FI
Emergent Metacognition Index – EMI
Global Executive Composite – GEC
T-scores of 65 and above indicate clinical
significance/area of concern
Results
PPVT
Renfrew Bus
Renfrew Bus Renfrew Bus
Information
Content
Sentence
Length
# of errors
M=112
M=99
M=106
M=5
Range: 99-126
SD=19
Range: 75-129
SD=18
Range: 81-138
SD=17
Range: 2-10
SD=2
SS<85= clinical significance
BRIEFGEC
BRIEFInhibit
BRIEFFlexibility
BRIEFMetacognition
M=49
M=51
M=50
M=50
Range= 34-79
SD=13
Range=36-91
SD=13
Range=35-83
SD=13
Range=36-75
SD=12
T Score >65= clinical significance
Relationship between PPVT and
Renfrew Bus Story
PPVT
Renfrew Bus
Renfrew Bus
Informational
Content
Sentence Length
.49*
.34
* Significant correlation at .05 level
Relationship between PPVT and
BRIEF-P Parent
PPVT
BRIEFGEC
BRIEFInhibition
- .21
- .03
No significant correlations
BRIEFBRIEFFlexibility Metacognition
- .24
- .33
Relationship between Renfrew Bus
Story and BRIEF-P Parent
BRIEFGEC
BRIEFInhibition
BRIEFBRIEFFlexibility Metacognition
- .58**
- .45
- .51*
-
- .66**
- .55*
- .59**
- .77**
Renfrew Bus
Informational
Content
.63**
Renfrew Bus
Sentence
Length
*significant correlation at .05 level
**significant correlation at .01 level
Discussion

Compared to past studies:


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Interpretations/Implications

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Functional language tasks, such as story telling and discourse, require not only
basic language skills, but also executive function skills such as inhibitory
control, working memory, flexibility, and planning.
Limitations


Did not find significant correlations w/PPVT and EF, as Carlson and Carlson et.
al did in the past.
However did find correlations between oral narrative language skills and
executive function behavior, particularly for the EF components of working
memory and planning.
Small sample size
Future Research


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Extend to larger sample size of preschool and school-aged children.
Extend analysis to encompass children with various types of language
disorders
Consider means of identifying profiles of emerging EF skills relative to
developing language skills.
References
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Anderson, P. (2002). Assessment and development of executive function
(EF) during childhood. Child Neuropsychology, 8, 71-82.
Anderson, V. A., Anderson, P., Northam, E., Jacobs, R., & Catroppa, C.
(2001). Development of executive functions through late childhood and
adolescence in and australian sample. Developmental Neuropsychology,
20, 385-406.
Carlson, S. (2005). Developmentally sensitive measures of executive
function in preschool children. Developmental Neuropsychology, 28(2), 595616.
Carlson, S., Davis, A., & Leach, J. (2005). Less is more: executive function
and symbolic representation in preschool children. Psychological Science,
16(8), 609-616.
Dawson, P., & Guare, R. (2004). Executive skills in children and
adolescents. New York: The Guilford Press.
Dunn, L., & Dunn, D. (Ed.). (2007). Peabody picture vocabulary test, fourth
edition. Minneapolis, MN: Pearson Assessments.
References
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Gioia, G., Espy, K., & Isquith, P. (Ed.). (2003). Behavior rating inventory of
executive function - preschool version. Lutz, FL: Psychological Assessment
Resources, Inc..
Glasgow, C., & Cowley, J. (1994). Renfrew Bus Story test - North American
Edition. Centreville, DE: Centreville School.
Isquith, P., Gioia, G., & Espy, K. (2004). Executive function in preschool
children: Examination through everyday behavior. Developmental
Neuropsychology, 26(1), 403-422.
Jurado, M. B., & Rosselli, M. (2007). The elusive nature of executive functions:
A review of our current understanding. Neuropsychology Review, 17, 213-233.
doi:10.1007/s11065-0079040-z
Richard, G. J., & Fahy, J. K. (2005). The source for development of executive
functions. East Moline, Illinois: Linguisystems.
Senn, T., Espy, K., & Kaufmann, P. (2004). Using path analysis to understand
executive function organization in preschool children. Developmental
Neuropsychology, 26(1), 445-464.
Stuss, D. T., & Alexander, M. P. (2000). Executive functions and the frontal
lobes: A conceptual view. Psychological Research, 63, 289-298.
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