The contribution of executive functions to emergent mathematic skills in preschool children

Kimberly Andrews Espy, Melanie M. McDiarmid, Mary F. Cwik, Melissa Meade Stalets, Arlena Hamby, Theresa E. Senn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

417 Scopus citations


Mathematical ability is related to both activation of the prefrontal cortex in neuroimaging studies of adults and to executive functions in school-age children. The purpose of this study was to determine whether executive functions were related to emergent mathematical proficiency in preschool children. Preschool children (N = 96) were administered an executive function battery that was reduced empirically to working memory (WM), inhibitory control (IC), and shifting abilities by calculating composite scores derived from principal component analysis. Both WM and IC predicted early arithmetic competency, with the observed relations robust after controlling statistically for child age, maternal education, and child vocabulary. Only IC accounted for unique variance in mathematical skills, after the contribution of other executive functions were controlled statistically as well. Specific executive functions are related to emergent mathematical proficiency in this age range. Longitudinal studies using structural equation modeling are necessary to better characterize these ontogenetic relations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)465-486
Number of pages22
JournalDevelopmental Neuropsychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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