Components of Executive Function as Predictors of Youth Mental Health During COVID-19
Components of executive control measured prior to the start of the pandemic were examined as predictors of anxiety, depression, and trauma-related symptoms during COVID-19.
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- [00:00:03.360]Olivia Dae Chang: Hi there, my name is Olivia Chang and I will be sharing our study entitled Components of Executive Function as Predictors of Youth Mental Health during COVID-19.
- [00:00:12.450]Olivia Dae Chang: The COVID-19 pandemic has placed significant stress on people of all ages worldwide.
- [00:00:16.800]Olivia Dae Chang: This said, research has suggested that youth represent a population that may be particularly vulnerable during this ongoing pandemic,
- [00:00:22.980]Olivia Dae Chang: with early data documenting significant increases in the prevalence of psychopathology among adolescents and young adults.
- [00:00:29.730]Olivia Dae Chang: In the sense, a global health crisis has been accompanied by a mental health crisis and warrants further investigation of the factors that may contribute to mental health problems during COVID.
- [00:00:39.660]Olivia Dae Chang: Notably, executive function, which is defined as a set of cognitive abilities that guide our attention and behavior, has been identified as a key risk factor for psychopathology, including anxiety and depression, among youth.
- [00:00:51.570]Olivia Dae Chang: This link between executive function and psychopathology is theorized to reflect difficulty disengaging from negative thoughts and emotions,
- [00:00:58.410]Olivia Dae Chang: as well as difficulty redirecting one's behavior toward more positive alternatives. Perhaps not surprisingly, over time, the confluence of persistent negative mood and difficulty in coping that comes along with executive function deficits can lead to poorer mental health.
- [00:01:13.530]Olivia Dae Chang: However, few studies have investigated executive function abilities in conjunction with health outcomes during COVID-19,
- [00:01:20.400]Olivia Dae Chang: fewer even with mental health outcomes, particularly in the context of a longitudinal study with pre-COVID baseline measures of internalizing symptoms and executive function.
- [00:01:30.420]Olivia Dae Chang: Furthermore, as mentioned before, executive function consists of a set of cognitive abilities, that includes inhibitory control, working memory, and flexible shifting.
- [00:01:39.570]Olivia Dae Chang: While these components of executive function are certainly closely associated and may often interact with one another, they are distinguishable.
- [00:01:47.250]Olivia Dae Chang: Inhibitory control refers to resisting irrelevant or impulsive behavior, working memory reflects a temporary store for the information that is used in cognitive processes,
- [00:01:56.970]Olivia Dae Chang: and finally, flexible shifting refers to the ability to switch between mental strategies or tasks. Therefore it is important to delineate whether just some or all facets of executive function may be associated with risk for psychology during stressful events like COVID.
- [00:02:13.320]Olivia Dae Chang: Given this, the current study sought to examine how executive function components, namely, inhibitory control,
- [00:02:19.230]Olivia Dae Chang: working memory, and flexible shifting, measured prior to the start of COVID-19 might be associated with mental health status during the pandemic.
- [00:02:27.570]Olivia Dae Chang: Specifically, it was hypothesized that executive function deficits would be associated with higher levels of anxiety, depression, and trauma-related symptoms during the pandemic.
- [00:02:37.440]Olivia Dae Chang: To give an overview of our methods and analytic plan, the participants were 220 adolescents from the Lincoln area that have been involved in an ongoing longitudinal study on cognitive development for several years.
- [00:02:49.320]Olivia Dae Chang: At time one, pre-COVID, participants were on average 15 years old and completed a mental health measure called the youth self-report,
- [00:02:57.300]Olivia Dae Chang: which includes items concerning anxiety and depressive symptoms, which we will refer to more generally as internalizing symptoms.
- [00:03:05.550]Olivia Dae Chang: Also during time one, they completed a measure of executive function called the behavior rating inventory of executive function, which measures general executive function abilities in everyday contexts.
- [00:03:15.720]Olivia Dae Chang: In the current study, we focused on the subscales assessing inhibitory control, working memory, and flexible shifting abilities, as well as the composite score that captures overall executive function.
- [00:03:25.890]Olivia Dae Chang: At time two, which was between July and August 2020, participants were on average 17 years old and completed an online survey that included adapted versions of the general anxiety disorder seven,
- [00:03:37.290]Olivia Dae Chang: which assesses anxiety, the patient health questionnaire nine, which measures depression, and a brief measure of COVID-related trauma, which measures symptoms associated with PTSD.
- [00:03:47.490]Olivia Dae Chang: These measures were adapted to ask about symptoms experienced since mid-March, or the start of the pandemic.
- [00:03:53.160]Olivia Dae Chang: Multiple regression analyses were conducted and analyzed in Mplus using maximum likelihood estimation, which allows us to retain the complete sample of 220 participants who participated in time one but may not have participated in time two.
- [00:04:08.400]Olivia Dae Chang: Inhibitory control, working memory, and flexible shifting were considered as simultaneous predictors of anxiety, depression, and trauma, respectively, while controlling for sociodemographic factors and previous internalizing symptoms.
- [00:04:21.960]Olivia Dae Chang: In addition, post-hoc analyses were later conducted using t-tests to examine variable differences by family poverty status.
- [00:04:29.910]Olivia Dae Chang: Before I dive into our specific research questions and findings, it is first worth noting that nearly one in four participants in our sample,
- [00:04:37.710]Olivia Dae Chang: 24%, met diagnostic criteria for moderate to severe depression, and 18% met criteria for moderate to severe anxiety during COVID-19.
- [00:04:46.860]Olivia Dae Chang: This speaks to the overall gravity and prevalence of mental health problems among adolescents and young adults during the pandemic and underscores the importance of this research to understand what makes these youth vulnerable to psychopathology during COVID-19.
- [00:05:00.960]Olivia Dae Chang: To summarize our findings, we did indeed find some evidence in support of our hypotheses.
- [00:05:06.030]Olivia Dae Chang: Our results indicated that pre-COVID executive function did uniquely predict COVID-related anxiety,
- [00:05:12.180]Olivia Dae Chang: but not necessarily COVID-related depression or trauma symptoms after controlling for pre-COVID internalizing symptoms in adolescence.
- [00:05:20.460]Olivia Dae Chang: Specifically, we found that deficits in working memory was the only component of executive function that appeared to contribute to heightened anxiety symptoms during COVID.
- [00:05:30.450]Olivia Dae Chang: In addition, being female and having prior internalizing symptoms were associated with greater psychopathology during COVID.
- [00:05:36.960]Olivia Dae Chang: Interestingly, although family poverty status did not emerge as a significant predictor of psychopathology during COVID-19,
- [00:05:43.740]Olivia Dae Chang: our post-hoc analyses did indicate that living below the federal poverty line was associated the significant greater executive function deficits during adolescence, which our results indicate may be an important risk factor for subsequent mental health issues.
- [00:05:58.140]Olivia Dae Chang: Taken together, our findings suggest that working memory deficits may be related to greater difficulty disengaging from persistent worrying and rumination,
- [00:06:05.550]Olivia Dae Chang: particularly in the context of COVID-19, where there may be little to no perceived control of the situation. It may also be the case that individuals with poorer working memory abilities may be more easily overwhelmed by stressful circumstances like COVID when there's just so much going on.
- [00:06:21.270]Olivia Dae Chang: Our results are consistent with the contention that addressing inequities in executive function abilities, especially working memory deficits among youth,
- [00:06:28.740]Olivia Dae Chang: may be a critical component of efforts to bolster resiliency against psychopathology in the face of experiencing environmental stressors.
- [00:06:36.450]Olivia Dae Chang: Finally, our analyses converge with evidence that efforts to address disparities in executive function deficits and protect mental health may be most needed for socioeconomically marginalized youth.
- [00:06:47.430]Olivia Dae Chang: Thank you for your time and I hope to your comments and questions at the symposium
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