Executive functioning: developmental consequences on adolescents with histories of maltreatment

Kirke-Smith, Mimi; Henry, Lucy and Messer, David (2014). Executive functioning: developmental consequences on adolescents with histories of maltreatment. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 32(3) pp. 305–319.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/bjdp.12041


Research suggests that children exposed to maltreatment have deficits in executive functioning (EF) but few studies have focused on the adolescent age group. We investigated whether maltreated adolescents had lower EF abilities compared to a group of non-maltreated adolescents. Forty adolescents with histories of child maltreatment, together with a comparison group of 40 non-maltreated adolescents matched for age, completed a comprehensive battery of EF tasks. Hierarchical multiple regression analyses, controlling for IQ, were carried out using each of the EF measures as dependent variables to examine group differences. Maltreated adolescents had significantly lower performance than non-maltreated adolescents on tasks assessing executive loaded working memory, fluency, and inhibition, although switching was not impaired. Emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBD) were included in additional regression analyses to examine whether these variables would explain the group differences. The inclusion of EBD variables had some effect on group differences, as expected, but did not eliminate them. These findings support the theory that impairments in EF may be one underlying reason why adolescents with histories of maltreatment struggle to cope both inside and outside the classroom.

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