Emotional and effortful control abilities in 42-month-old very preterm and full-term children


Journal Article


Witt, A., Theurel, A., Borradori Tolsa, C., Lejeune, F., Fernandes, L., van Hanswijck de Jonge, L., Monnier, M., Bickle Graz, M., Barisnikov, K., Gentaz, E., Hüppi, P.




Emotional and effortful control abilities in 42-month-old very preterm and full-term children

Journal / Livre / Conférence

Early Human Development


Background. Very preterm (VP) infants are at greater risk for cognitive difficulties that may persist during school-age, adolescence and adulthood. Behavioural assessments report either effortful control (part of executive functions) or emotional reactivity/regulation impairments.
Aims. To examine whether emotional recognition, reactivity, and regulation, as well as effortful control abilities are impaired in very preterm children at 42 months of age, compared with their full-term peers, and to what extent emotional and effortful control difficulties are linked.
Study design. Children born very preterm (VP; < 29 weeks gestational age, n = 41) and full-term (FT) aged-matched children (n = 47) participated in a series of specific neuropsychological tests assessing their level of emotional understanding, reactivity and regulation, as well as their attentional and effortful control abilities.
Results. VP children exhibited higher scores of frustration and fear, and were less accurate in naming facial expressions of emotions than their aged-matched peers. However, VP children and FT children equally performed when asked to choose emotional facial expression in social context, and when we assessed their selective attention skills. VP performed significantly lower than full terms on two tasks of inhibition when correcting for verbal skills. Moreover, significant correlations between cognitive capacities (effortful control) and emotional abilities were evidenced.
Conclusions. Compared to their FT peers, 42 month-olds who were born very preterm are at higher risk of exhibiting specific emotional and effortful control difficulties. The results suggest that these difficulties are linked. Ongoing behavioural and emotional impairments starting at an early age in preterms highlight the need for early interventions based on a better understanding of the relationship between emotional and cognitive difficulties.








very preterm children, emotion, emotional regulation, executive functions, effortful control, development


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