Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version



Journal of Youth and Adolescence 49 (2020), pp. 2429–2440.

doi: 10.1007/s10964-020-01316-9


Copyright © 2020 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature. Used by permission.


Identifying childhood cognitive processes that predict adolescent problem behaviors can help guide understanding and prevention of these behaviors. In a community sample of 313 youth recruited in a small Midwestern city between 2006 and 2012 (49% male, 64% European American), executive control and foundational cognitive abilities were assessed at age 5 in a lab setting with performance-based measures. In adolescence, youth provided self-report of problem behaviors in surveys administered annually between ages 14 and 16. Executive control was negatively associated with externalizing behavior problems and adolescents getting in trouble at school, accounting for foundational cognitive abilities and family background covariates. Executive control had negative but nonsignificant associations with internalizing problems and substance use initiation. The findings point to deficits in executive control as a childhood risk factor for later problems and a potential target for preventive interventions.