Processing speed mediates executive function difficulties in very preterm children in middle childhood

J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2011 May;17(3):445-54. doi: 10.1017/S1355617711000373.


Executive function and attention difficulties are reported in very preterm (VPT) children at school entry, but it is unclear if these remain at later ages and/or if these difficulties are mediated by more basic functions, such as processing speed. Processing speed has been shown to underlie academic and behavioral problems in VPT children in middle childhood (Mulder, Pitchford, & Marlow, 2010, 2011), so may also underpin executive function and attention difficulties. We investigated this by comparing VPT (gestational age <31 weeks; N = 56) to term children (N = 22) aged 9-10 years on a comprehensive battery of executive function and attention tasks from the Test of Everyday Attention for Children (Manly, Robertson, Anderson, & Nimmo-Smith, 1999) and NEPSY (Korkman, Kirk, & Kemp, 1998). Selective and sustained attention, inhibition, working memory, shifting, verbal fluency, planning, and processing speed were examined. Group differences favoring term children were shown on most executive function tasks (i.e., inhibition, working memory, verbal fluency, and shifting), all of which were mediated by slow processing speed in the VPT group, except response inhibition. Seemingly, processing speed is an important determinant underpinning many neuropsychological deficits seen in VPT children in middle childhood.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / physiopathology
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / rehabilitation*
  • Child
  • Cognition Disorders / physiopathology
  • Cognition Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Extremely Premature*
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Negotiating / methods*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Regression Analysis