Date of Award:

12-2018

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Family Consumer Human Development

Committee

Ann M. Berghout Austin

Abstract

A child’s executive function (aspects: working memory, response inhibition, and set-shifting between sets of rules) capabilities have been found to strongly relate to their mathematics skills. However, while the relationship has been strongly supported by researchers, a consensus has not been reached regarding the specifics of the relationship between executive function and math skills, including which executive function aspect is most predictive of mathematical performance and the differences in said relationship that might be found when examining both numeracy, such as counting skills and basic operations, and geometry skills. The lack of consensus may be in part because researchers have assessed both executive function and mathematics in a variety of ways. To address the consensus issue, this study used a panel of face-to-face measures of executive function, a paper-and-pencil measure of executive function, and a broader measure of mathematical performance than has typically been used, one including numeracy and geometry. Using a longitudinal approach, with two assessment periods about six months apart (M = 5.61 mos., SD = 1.12), this study examined this relationship among 118 children (61 girls), ages 39 to 68 months (M = 52.58, SD = 6.35), living in both rural (n = 64) and urban (n = 54) areas in a state in the western United States. A longitudinal approach allowed for comparisons between results from the two assessment periods. Results suggest that while numeracy and geometry skill among preschool-age children are connected, there are some independent elements. Additionally, because of rapid cognitive growth, age is an important factor when selecting both assessments and analytic strategies, as statistically significant variations in the predictive power of measures and strategies occurred between assessment periods. Connections between younger children’s executive function and numeracy skills appeared to be best assessed through a non-number-based measure, older children’s numeracy ability can be predicted by a greater variety of executive function measures. Face-to-face executive function measures included in this study were more predictive of numeracy skill than geometry skill, and geometry skill appears to be connected to inhibitory control. Differences between rural and urban children were found on numeracy skill and working memory ability, but not on geometry skill. Statistically significant differences by gender were found on an inhibitory control measure, with boys scoring higher than girls in our sample.

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