Internalizing symptoms, executive functions, and academic performance

Sabrina Tan, Fordham University


Previous research shows that children's academic performance is significantly impacted not only by the child's intellectual functioning, but also by his/her cognitions and emotions. This study explored the interrelationships among children's internalizing symptoms, executive functions, and academic performance. In particular, Math and English scores were regressed on anxious and depressive symptoms, inhibition, cognitive flexibility, and working memory, while controlling for IQ. Additionally, the study sought to determine if executive functions moderated the influence of internalizing symptoms on academic performance. The sample consisted of 238 male students, ages 11–15, who attended a private, all-boys school in Manila, Philippines. Each participant was administered three different self-rating questionnaires that measured anxiety, depression, and executive functions. The participating students' teachers were also asked to complete a teacher report of student executive functioning as exhibited in behaviors in the classroom. Additionally, the researcher administered performance-based assessments of executive functions and intellectual functioning to each participant in a one-to-one setting. Results of hierarchical regression analyses showed that IQ, internalizing symptoms, and executive functions significantly explained the variance in academic performance. When IQ was controlled, the addition of internalizing symptoms and executive functions to the model was statistically significant. However, the interaction terms between executive functions and internalizing symptoms did not significantly contribute to the explained variance in academic performance. A closer review of the results revealed that working memory and to a lesser degree, anxiety, significantly related to both Math and English scores. It is of note, however, that elevated levels of anxiety as measured in this study, appeared to have a facilitative influence on academic performance. Supplemental regression analyses were conducted to further explore the interrelationships among the variables. In general, the results indicate that children's emotional states as well as cognitive control capacities are significant factors influencing academic functioning. These findings have implications for interventions and training programs that would focus on improving children's social-emotional and cognitive functioning in the school setting.

Subject Area

Educational psychology|Counseling Psychology|Cognitive psychology

Recommended Citation

Tan, Sabrina, "Internalizing symptoms, executive functions, and academic performance" (2011). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3444450.