Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

An Examination of Executive Function, Stress, and Adolescent Attachment to Caregivers in a Social Neuroscience Model Using the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (SECCYD)
by Brown, Margaux Hanes, Ph.D., The George Washington University, 2014, 180; 3610769
Abstract (Summary)

The goal of this study was to explore the relationship between stress and executive function (EF) in adolescence and to determine the extent to which the adolescent-caregiver attachment moderated the effects of stress on EF. EF are a set of meta-cognitive processes, including planning, that require coordinated neural activation in the prefrontal cortex and a number of other brain regions. Deficits in EF are associated with many mental health disorders. Large-scale, federally funded efforts are ongoing to understand more about EF and the brain.

Current adolescent brain research calls for further investigation of how regions coordinate in task-specific activities (Spear, 2010). The stress, or hypothalamic-pituitary axis (HPA), and attachment systems share underlying neural substrates that overlap with regions activated to perform EF. Adolescence is a sensitive period for changes in EF skills (Blakemore & Choudhury, 2006), the HPA axis (Romeo, 2011), and attachment (Allen, 2008). Therefore, this research was aimed at exploring how stress and attachment predict performance on an EF task in adolescence. Specifically, the researcher examined the extent to which attachment styles moderated the relationship between cortisol, a measure of HPA axis functioning, and performance on the Tower of London (TOL), a test of planning skills. The NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (SECCYD) data were used to examine this overarching research question in a social neuroscience model.

While the TOL is one of the most frequently used measures of EF, its scoring methods vary across studies (Etnier & Change, 2009). Study 1 consisted of an exploratory factor analysis with data from 932 youth, and results supported a single factor model that best represented planning skills, which was consistent with the hypothesized structure based on an exploratory study with a small sample of college students (Berg, Byrd, McNamara, & Case, 2010). The factor score was then used as the criterion variable in Study 2, which included three moderated regression models that explored secure, preoccupied, and dismissing attachment styles. Though results suggested that cortisol and attachment were not predictive of planning in this sample, potential explanations for the lack of findings are proposed and recommendations for future research are included.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Lanthier, Richard P.
Commitee: Hoare, Carol, Marmarosh, Cheri L., Marotta-Walters, Sylvia, Weiss, Brandi A.
School: The George Washington University
Department: Counseling
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-B 75/05(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Neurosciences, Counseling Psychology, Developmental psychology
Keywords: Adolescence, Attachment, Executive function, National institute of child health and human development, Neuroscience, Stress, Study of early child care and youth development
Publication Number: 3610769
ISBN: 978-1-303-70803-9
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