Psychology ETDs

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Objective: The current study investigated executive function (EF) in preschoolers born very low birth weight (VLBW) and full term by examining the dimensionality of EF and the relationship between multimodal measures of EF. Additionally, we investigated the neuroanatomical factors that may relate to EF in this population. Participants and methods: The sample included 101 preschoolers: 61 VLBW and 40 full term (mean=45.98 months (SD=5.05). EF measures included: Bear Dragon, Gift Touch, Gift Peek, Progressive Executive Categorization Battery, parent rated EF (BRIEF-P), and Child Compliance observational coding. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data were analyzed through voxel-based morphometry (VBM) for a subset of preschoolers. Results: As expected, full term preschoolers were found to have higher EF scores than VLBW preschoolers on all EF measures. When principal component analysis (PCA) was used for the combined group to assess the dimensionality of EF, only one factor emerged that included all four EF performance measures and excluded BRIEF-P scores and Compliance scores. In neuroanatomical analyses, preschoolers born full term had larger gray matter volumes in bilateral temporal, frontal paracentral, putamen, right inferior parietal, and right cerebellum anterior lobe. Preschoolers born VLBW had greater volumes for bilateral frontal, occipital, right cerebellum, right occipital, left frontal, left anterior cingulate, and left parahippocampal regions. In the combined sample, increased gray matter in the right occipital area was related to poorer EF. Additionally, increases in gray matter in the bilateral temporal, right temporal, right insula and right putamen were related to greater EF performance. Conclusion: In this sample, EF performance measures loaded together onto a one-dimensional construct. EF and structural differences were found between VLBW and full term groups: EF was poorer, and structural volumes in the temporal and parietal areas were decreased and volumes in the frontal and occipital areas were increased in the VLBW group relative to the full term group. When examining the relationship between EF and structural volumes in the combined group, stronger EF performance was correlated with increased volume in temporal and deep gray matter as well as decreases in right occipital volume. The limitations in placing these results into the current literature are discussed.

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First Advisor

Erickson, Sarah

First Committee Member (Chair)

Yeo, Ronald

Second Committee Member

Lowe, Jean

Third Committee Member

Kodituwakku, Piyadasa

Fourth Committee Member

Goldsmith, Timothy




Preschool children--Psychology, Premature infants--Psychology, Executive ability in children, Cognition disorders in children.

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