Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Master of Arts




Bax, Karen A.

2nd Supervisor

Crooks, Claire V.


This study aimed to investigate the relationships among executive functions (EFs), adaptive skills, and behaviour problems in young children. Participants were divided into four behaviour groups: high internalizing (INT), high externalizing (EXT), combined high internalizing and externalizing (COMB), and within the normal range (NORM). The predictive ability of inhibition, shift, working memory, adaptive skills, age, and gender on group membership was explored using regression analyses. A person-oriented perspective was also explored using cluster analysis. Fifty-five kindergarten and Grade one educators in Ontario, Canada completed the Behaviour Rating Inventory for Executive Functioning (second or preschool edition) and the Behaviour Assessment System for Children (third edition) for their students (N = 789). There were significant differences across the four behaviour groups in relation to their levels of executive functioning and adaptive skills. Shift was the strongest predictor of INT group membership, whereas inhibition was the strongest predictor of EXT and COMB group membership. Higher levels of adaptive skills were associated with decreased likelihood of being in any of the three behavioural groups. Cluster analysis results produced two EF clusters: those with elevated EF deficits, and those within the normal range of EF. Most children within the normal range of executive functioning were not displaying high levels of behaviour problems; conversely, there were children with EF deficits that were not displaying high levels of behaviour problems. Results provide information in relation to the unity/diversity of EF, the etiology of behaviour problems in young children, and therefore early intervention practices.

Summary for Lay Audience

The present study aimed at better understanding behaviour problems in young children. Externalizing (outwardly directed) and internalizing (inwardly directed) behaviours were examined. The relationship between behaviour problems and cognitive capacities known as executive functions, adaptive skills, gender, and age were explored. Results revealed that different executive functions were related to different types of behaviour problems in young children. Furthermore, levels of adaptive skills were related to both types of behaviour problems. The structure of executive functions in young children was also explored in order to better understand the unity and diversity of these cognitive capacities. The results of this study provide valuable information in relation to early intervention practices for youth with internalizing and/or externalizing behaviour problems.