Adversity in early childhood affects executive functioning. This, from researchers at the University of Washington.

Researchers studied 306 children for two years, starting when the participants were around age 3 and until age 5 ½. The kids came from various racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, and 57% were considered low income.

At the beginning of the study, researchers surveyed each mother about their child’s exposure to negative life events such as abuse. Also, at multiple points throughout, the team tested the kids’ executive functions with simple activities that measured their ability to pay attention and follow directions.

Researchers found that children who experienced greater adversity and those in lower income families scored lower in executive functioning throughout childhood.

While conventional wisdom tells us that challenges build character, this study illuminates the negative effects of adversity on kids. Researchers say safe, stable environments are important to child development and hope their findings inform early childhood interventions that support children of all backgrounds.


Lengua, L. J., Thompson, S. F., et al. (2019, May 10). Pathways from early adversity to later adjustment: Tests of the additive and bidirectional effects of executive control and diurnal cortisol in early childhood. Development and Psychopathology. Retrieved from

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Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett is the Content Development Manager at Thriveworks. She devotes herself to distributing important information about mental health and wellbeing, writing mental health news and self-improvement tips daily. Taylor received her bachelor’s degree in multimedia journalism, with minors in professional writing and leadership from Virginia Tech. She is a co-author of Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book and has published content on Thought Catalog, Odyssey, and The Traveling Parent.

Check out “Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book” written by AJ Centore and Taylor Bennett."

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