Publication Date



Open access

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Psychology (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Marygrace Yale Kaiser

Second Committee Member

Rebecca Bulotsky-Shearer

Third Committee Member

Daniel Messinger

Fourth Committee Member

Heather Henderson

Fifth Committee Member

Jonathan West


Executive functions (EFs), specifically a child's ability to shift between two stimuli and a child's ability to inhibit a prepotent response, are a child's self-regulatory cognitive processes used towards achieving a goal (Garon, Bryson, & Smith, 2008) and have been found to predict later school readiness (e.g. Blair & Diamond, 2008; McClelland et al., 2007; Pennington & Ozonoff, 1996). The current study examined possible mechanisms, such as problem behaviors and theory of mind (ToM), through which executive functions predict later cognitive and social school readiness. Problem behaviors occur when children are not effectively functioning in social situations, while ToM is a social-cognitive skill that allows a child to understand another person's mental processes (Wellman, 2002). These variables have been found to relate to one another in predicting preschool children's competence in numerous domains (see Carlson, Mandell, & Williams, 2004; Hughes, 1998b). Little research has been done on how these variables may mediate the relation between EFs and cognitive and social school readiness. This short-term longitudinal study assessed the unique contributions of ToM and problem behaviors to cognitive and social school readiness. Problem behaviors mediated the relation between EF, specifically inhibition, and social school readiness. Both teacher reports and direct assessment of EF revealed that EF, and specifically shifting, were direct predictors of later cognitive school readiness. However, ToM did not mediate any of the relations between EF and either social or cognitive school readiness. These results have several implications for education, including intervening with a child's ability to inhibit in order to improve problem behaviors and later social school readiness, as well as improving children's ability to mentally and behaviorally shift between sets of information in order to improve cognitive school readiness.


Structural Equation Modeling; School Readiness; Self-regulation; Mediation