Executive functions (EFs) have been reported to play a crucial role in children's development, affecting their academic achievement, health, and quality of life. This study examined individual and interpersonal predictors for EFs in 555 typically developing preschool children aged 2-6 years. Children were recruited from 84 child care centers in the German- and French-speaking parts of Switzerland within the Swiss Preschoolers' Health Study (SPLASHY). A total of 20 potential predictors were assessed at the first measurement (T1). These included eight demographic/biological predictors, such as socioeconomic status, preterm birth, physical activity, and motor skills; six psychological predictors, such as hyperactivity, visual perception, and emotionality; and six interpersonal predictors, such as parenting style and stress, presence of siblings, and days spent in the child care center. The predictive value of these variables on EFs 1 year later (T2) was assessed using both standard multiple regression analysis and penalized regression to avoid overfitting due to the number of potential predictors. Female sex (β = 0.14), socio-economic status (β = 0.15), fine motor skills (β = 0.17), visual perception at T1 (β = 0.16), and EFs at T1 (β = 0.30) were all associated with EFs at T2, exhibiting small to medium effect sizes. All predictors together accounted for 31% of the variability in EFs. However, none of the interpersonal predictors were significant. Thus, we conclude that most of the factors that can predict EFs in preschool age are individual variables, and these tend to be more difficult to influence than interpersonal factors. In fact, children from families with low socio-economic status may be particularly vulnerable to poor EFs. Furthermore, encouraging fine motor skills early in life may support the development of EFs.
Keywords: SPLASHY; cognitive functioning; executive functions; motor skills; predictors; preschoolers; sex; socio economic status.