Author(s) / Creator(s)
Abstract / Description
Background: Executive functions (i.e., response inhibition, attention shifting, working memory updating) have shown to be related to the mathematical component of intelligence, which, in turn, is predictive of various competences later in life. While this relation has already been thoroughly researched in school students and adults, a comprehensive research synthesis on preschool children—a group for which the assessment of these constructs is more challenging—is still missing. Evidence on the differentiation of cognitive skills over time suggests a differential relation of the three executive functions with math intelligence in older but not in younger children. It remains unclear, however, whether and which one of the three executive functions is more closely related to math intelligence in preschool children. Further research gaps concern the measurement of both executive functions and math intelligence in preschool children, as they cannot complete reading- and writing-based questionnaires. Addressing this measurement challenge, a plethora of inventive measurements has been used to assess both cognitive skills. These measurement differences might also have an influence on the relation between executive functions and math intelligence. Objectives: With our meta-analysis, we aimed to clarify the relation between executive functions and math intelligence in preschool children. Further, we wanted to investigate the influence of different measurement methods on this relation and look into the specific links of inhibition, shifting, and updating with math intelligence more closely. Research questions: 1. To what extent are inhibition, shifting, and updating (as a composite and separately) related to math intelligence in preschool children? (Overall correlations) 2. Which sample, study, and measurement characteristics moderate this relation? (Heterogeneity and moderators) 3. How much variation in math intelligence do inhibition, shifting, and updating explain jointly? (Model testing) Methods: We examined the relation between executive functions and math intelligence for 268 effect sizes from 29 studies for a total sample of 25,510 preschool children. Specifically, we synthesized the corresponding correlations by means of three-level random-effects meta-analyses (RQ 1) and examined the study, sample, and measurement characteristics as possible moderators of this relation between EFs and math intelligence via mixed-effects modeling (RQ 2). Further, we performed meta-analytic structural equation modeling to investigate the joint and differential effects inhibition, shifting, and updating on math intelligence (RQ 3). Results: We found executive functions and math intelligence to correlate moderately in preschool children (r = .35). Investigating inhibition, shifting, and updating separately also revealed moderate average correlations to math intelligence (r = .30, r = .38 , and r = .36, respectively). While we did not find age to explain significant amounts of heterogeneity, four measurement characteristics moderated the relation between executive function and math intelligence. When considered jointly through meta-analytic structural equation modeling, the relations of inhibition, shifting, and updating to math intelligence were similar. Conclusions and Implications: By presenting evidence for a significant relation between executive functions and math intelligence also in preschool children, our findings contribute to the discussion on the differentiation of cognitive skills. They highlight the importance of considering measurement characteristics when researching executive functions and math intelligence. Further, we could not confirm that inhibition, shifting, and updating are differentially related to math intelligence. Further research is needed to clarify the impact of age on the relation between executive functions and math intelligence.