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Predictors of executive function in early childhood: urban and rural poverty

Okur, Şükran
Executive function (EF) is an umbrella term of cognitive processes (working memory, inhibition, mental set shifting), which are important for achieving goal-directed behaviors. Several contextual and child factors influence EF development. Poverty is a risk factor for EF skills; however, the effects of urban and rural poverty might be different. The current study examined the differences in urban and rural poverty in terms of living conditions and parenting, EF differences in urban and rural poverty, and predictors of EF. The participants were 241 children and their mothers living in poverty. Children’s EF was assessed via Corsi block tapping (visuospatial WM), forward and backward digit span (verbal WM), day-and-night (inhibition), and dimensional change card sort (mental set-shifting) tasks. The results indicated that urban and rural poverty differed in terms of the poverty level (i.e., income, education), home stimulation, neighborhood quality, and mothers’ expectations about children’s educational attainment, whereas they were similar in terms of parenting, conversations with children and mothers’ beliefs about child development. The comparison of urban- rural poverty in terms of EF showed that children living in urban and rural poverty were not significantly different in their EF skills. Moreover, children’s age, duration of attending kindergarten, receptive vocabulary, and children’s perceptual sensitivity were associated with children’s EF; and urban-rural poverty interacted with mothers’ positive parenting predicting children’s verbal WM and mental set-shifting. The findings of the study are important for describing urban-rural poverty differences in Turkey, and the findings have implications for future studies.