Executive functions and child problem behaviors are sensitive to family disruption: a study of children of mothers working overseas


Gunilla Bohlin, Department of Psychology, Uppsala University, Box 1225, SE-75142 Sweden; e-mail: gunilla.bohlin@psyk.uu.se


Mothers in Sri Lanka are increasingly seeking overseas employment, resulting in disruption of the childcare environment. The present study was designed to evaluate the effects of maternal migration on executive function (EF) and behavior, thereby also contributing to the scientific understanding of environmental effects – or more specifically family effects – on children’s neurocognitive functioning. A sample of 60 healthy 11-year-old children whose mothers had been working overseas for more than 1 year formed the study group, and a comparison group was recruited from the same schools. Evaluations were made twice over a 1-year interval with regard to the EF components inhibition and working memory as well as teacher ratings of internalizing and externalizing behavior. The children in the study group were found to have poorer EF and higher levels of externalizing behaviors. A composite score of inhibition partially mediated the group effect on externalizing behavior. Current home environment was assessed using the HOME scale, was poorer for the study group and was related to EF, but not to behavior problems. Keeping in mind the correlational nature of the present data, our results were discussed in relation to studies showing cognitive effects of stress.