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