Development of a screener for the behavioral assessment of executive functions in children
Garcia-Barrera, Mauricio Alejandro
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The problem of valid measurement of psychological constructs remains an impediment to scientific progress, and the measurement of executive function in children is not an exception. "Executive Functions" is a multidimensional construct that has been controversial since its first descriptions, and this lack of consensus resulted in the development of multiple evaluation models. Furthermore, increased awareness of the importance of executive functions in childhood has guided researchers to create more sophisticated measurement techniques of this complex function. However, questions about the ecological validity of traditional tests remain, and improvements have been observed with the introduction of executive functioning rating scales. The purpose of this dissertation was the development of a behavioral screener for the estimation of executive functions in children. Therefore, a CFA model with 25 items loading into four latent factors representing four executive functions was developed. The factors were labeled as behavioral control, emotional control, attentional control, and problem solving, and its statistical properties were examined using Structural Equation Modeling. Each factor corresponds to a cortical representation in the prefrontal cortex and its connections. The sample was obtained from the original standardization sample of the BASC Teachers for children aged 6-11 (N=2165). The items were derived from the original Reynolds and Kamphaus’ Behavior Assessment System for Children ages 6-11. Reliability analysis demonstrated moderate to high factor internal consistency. Analysis of content validity (panel of experts) eliminated construct irrelevant indicators. Construct validity demonstrated the multidimensionality of the model and its adequate fit (CFI= 0.948). Measurement Invariance analysis across sex and age demonstrated that the model was invariant. These results supported the hypothesis that a reliable and valid executive functions measure could be obtained from a behavioral rating scale, and that its properties can be reliably tested using CFA and SEM methods. Furthermore, screeners are useful clinical tools in assessment settings. If implemented, this screener will provide clinicians and researchers with an instrument for the estimation of executive functions in children. Finally, these results suggested that future investigations should be oriented toward achieving a better understanding of the behavioral indicators of executive functioning, especially in children and adolescent populations.