Contributions of Attentional and Behavioral Regulation to Socioemotional Adjustment and Early Academic Success Among Head Start Graduates

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The multiple pathways linking 4-year-olds' self-regulation to their adjustment (defined as teacher-reported socioemotional functioning and academic achievement) among a sample of children from ethnically and geographically diverse low-income families (Time 1 N = 163) were examined at two time points over the transition from preschool to first grade. Self-regulation was defined in terms of attentional and behavioral regulation and inhibitory control. Three research questions were investigated in separate papers. In all analyses, demographic factors such as maternal age, education, workforce entry, family income category, and child age were statistically controlled. In the first paper, I investigated whether self-regulation mediates the relationship between caregivers' limit-setting practices and children's adjustment. Findings indicate that the extent to which children were able to engage in attentional and behavioral forms of regulation fully explained the relations between limit-setting practices and early reading achievement in first grade. Contrary to hypotheses, attention and behavior regulation did not mediate the effect of limit-setting on children's socially competent, externalizing, and internalizing behaviors. In the second paper, I tried to explicate the known relations between inhibitory control and adjustment by examining the mediating role of behavior regulation measured longitudinally at Time 1 and concurrently at Time 2. Support was found for the mediating role of behavior regulation in the relations between inhibitory control and children's reading and writing achievement. Comparable support was not found for children's socioemotional outcomes. Limited support was detected for the indirect effect of inhibitory control through behavior regulation on social competence, but only for children from married families at Time 1. In the third paper, I examined whether negative emotionality (defined as anger/frustration) moderated the relationship between self-regulation and child adjustment. Results suggest that negative emotionality moderated the relationship between attention regulation and children's reading grades: Children with fewer attention regulation skills and higher levels of frustration received lower reading grades compared with peers who also displayed few attention regulation skills but were low in frustration at Time 1. Contrary to predictions, the paths from behavioral regulation to achievement did not vary as a function of child frustration. For all three papers, policy implications are discussed.

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I am grateful to C. Cybele Raver, the Principal Investigator of the Cornell Early Social Development Study, for providing me with the opportunity to use and collect data related to this longitudinal project. I would like to thank the teachers throughout western New York State who gave their time to assess classroom behaviors, the school administrators who made report card collection possible, and the children and parents who participated in the Early Social Development Study.


This dissertation research was supported in part by a Predoctoral Kirschstein-National Research Service Award (NRSA) from the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 F31 MH68089-01A1 (2003-2004), a Dissertation Research Award from the American Psychological Association's Science Directorate (2003), a Flora Rose Fellowship (2002-2003), and a Dissertation Grant (2003) from the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University, and a Summer Fellowship (2002) from the Department of Human Development at Cornell University. The Cornell University Graduate School, the College of Human Ecology, and the Department of Human Development funded travel to professional meetings, conventions and conferences to present preliminary thesis findings (2003-2004).

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preschool; first grade; adjustment; academic achievement; poverty; self-regulation; school readiness; social and emotional development; risk; temperament; parenting; longitudinal; moderating and mediating processes; structural equation modeling


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dissertation or thesis

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