The Relationship Between Executive Functions and Language Abilities in Children: A Latent Variables Approach

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Purpose: We aimed to outline the latent variables approach for measuring nonverbal executive function (EF) skills in school-age children, and to examine the relationship between nonverbal EF skills and language performance in this age group.

Method: Seventy-one typically developing children, ages 8 through 11, participated in the study. Three EF components, inhibition, updating, and task-shifting, were each indexed using 2 nonverbal tasks. A latent variables approach was used to extract latent scores that represented each EF construct. Children were also administered common standardized language measures. Multiple regression analyses were conducted to examine the relationship between EF and language skills.

Results: Nonverbal updating was associated with the Receptive Language Index on the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals–Fourth Edition (CELF-4). When composites denoting lexical–semantic and syntactic abilities were derived, nonverbal inhibition (but not shifting or updating) was found to predict children's syntactic abilities. These relationships held when the effects of age, IQ, and socioeconomic status were controlled.

Conclusions; The study makes a methodological contribution by explicating a method by which researchers can use the latent variables approach when measuring EF performance in school-age children. The study makes a theoretical and a clinical contribution by suggesting that language performance may be related to domain-general EFs.

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Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, v. 60, issue 4, p. 912-923