The Relation between Cognitive and Emotional Processes in Children and Adolescents with Neurodevelopmental Disorders-A Meta-Analysis

Eur J Investig Health Psychol Educ. 2023 Nov 29;13(12):2811-2826. doi: 10.3390/ejihpe13120194.


Background: Up to 80% of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) have mental health issues-either emotional or behavioral problems. The underlying mechanisms are still unknown, even if emotional regulation (ER) is considered to play a major role in child and adolescent psychopathology. Several studies link the ability to regulate the intensity and quality of emotions with executive functioning. Therefore, we aimed to investigate the association between executive functions (EFs) and ER and affective problems in children with ASD.

Methods: This meta-analysis is based on a literature search of peer-reviewed journals from the following databases: Scopus, ProQuest, Ebsco, Science Direct, Springer Link and Clarivate. We analyzed 15 studies that investigated the link between EF, ER or affective problems (APs) in children and adolescents with ASD aged between 2 and 18 y with ASD. To assess the effect size of the relationship between EF and ER, and EF and AP, 15 studies comprising 54 effect sizes were analyzed.

Results: Our findings revealed a small effect size regarding the association between EF and ER, r = 0.331, p = 0.034, and a small effect size regarding the association between EF and AP, r = -0.213, p = 0.024. No significant moderators were found. The results are presented in regard to the two analyses developed, as well as a short review of the studies included in the meta-analysis.

Conclusion: Even if there are several limitations of this study, especially considering the small number of studies included, the results suggest that it is worth considering EF as an underlying mechanism for the appearance of emotional or behavioral problems in children with ASD. These findings have important implications for the development of ASD intervention plans, as well as for increasing awareness among specialists about the importance of executive functions in school adjustment and social functioning.

Keywords: affective problems; autism spectrum disorders; emotion regulation; executive functioning; meta-analysis.

Publication types

  • Review