Executive function in children born preterm: Risk factors and implications for outcome

Semin Perinatol. 2016 Dec;40(8):520-529. doi: 10.1053/j.semperi.2016.09.004. Epub 2016 Nov 8.


Executive function (EF) refers to the set of cognitive processes involved in the self-regulation of emotion and goal-directed behavior. These skills and the brain systems that support them develop throughout childhood and are frequently compromised in preterm children, even in those with broadly average global cognitive ability. Risks for deficits in EF in preterm children and attendant problems in learning and psychosocial functioning are higher in those with more extreme prematurity, neonatal complications, and related brain abnormalities. Associations of higher levels of EF with more supportive home and school environments suggest a potential for attenuating these risks, especially with early identification. Further research is needed to understand how deficits in EF evolve in preterm children, refine assessment methods, and develop interventions that either promote the development of EF in this population or help children to compensate for these weaknesses.

Keywords: Child development; Executive function; Preterm birth.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology
  • Child
  • Child Behavior
  • Developmental Disabilities / etiology
  • Developmental Disabilities / physiopathology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Extremely Premature / physiology*
  • Infant, Extremely Premature / psychology*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Learning
  • Risk Factors