From positive emotionality to internalizing problems: the role of executive functioning in preschoolers

Akhgar Ghassabian, Eszter Székely, Catherine Herba, Vincent Jaddoe, Bert Hofman, AJ (A.) Oldehinkel, Frank Verhulst, Henning Tiemeier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Temperament and psychopathology are intimately related; however, research on the prospective associations between positive emotionality, defined as a child's positive mood states and high engagement with the environment, and psychopathology is inconclusive. We examined the longitudinal relation between positive emotionality and internalizing problems in young children from the general population. Furthermore, we explored whether executive functioning mediates any observed association. Within a population-based Dutch birth cohort, we observed positive emotionality in 802 children using the laboratory temperament assessment battery at age 3 years. Child behavior checklist (CBCL) internalizing problems (consisting of Emotionally Reactive, Anxious/Depressed, and Withdrawn scales) were assessed at age 6 years. Parents rated their children's executive functioning at ages 4 years. Children with a lower positive emotionality at age 3 had a higher risk of withdrawn problems at age 6 years (OR = 1.20 per SD decrease in positive emotionality score, 95 % CI: 1.01, 1.42). This effect was not explained by preexisting internalizing problems. This association was partly mediated by more problems in the shifting domain of executive functioning (p < 0.001). We did not find any relation between positive emotionality and the CBCL emotionally reactive or anxious/depressed scales. Although the effect sizes were moderate, our results suggest that low levels of positive emotionality at preschool age can result in children's inflexibility and rigidity later in life. The inflexibility and rigidity are likely to affect the child's drive to engage with the environment, and thereby lead to withdrawn problems. Further research is needed to replicate these findings.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)729-741
Number of pages13
JournalEuropean Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Research programs

  • EMC MM-04-54-08-A
  • EMC NIHES-01-64-02
  • EMC NIHES-04-55-01
  • EMC ONWAR-01-58-02

Cite this