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The Development of Regulatory Functions From Birth to 5 Years: Insights From Premature Infants


  • Research at Dr. Feldman’s laboratory during the study period was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (01/941, 1318/08), the US-Israel Bi-National Science Foundation (2001-241, 2005-273), the March of Dimes Foundation (12-FY04-50), and the NARSAD foundation (Independent Investigator Award 2006, 2008).

concerning this article should be addressed to Ruth Feldman, Department of Psychology and the Gonda Brain Sciences Center, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel 52900. Electronic mail may be sent to


This study examined physiological, emotional, and attentional regulatory functions as predictors of self-regulation in 125 infants followed 7 times from birth to 5 years. Physiological regulation was assessed by neonatal vagal tone and sleep–wake cyclicity; emotion regulation by response to stress at 3, 6, and 12 months; and attention regulation by focused attention and delayed response in the 2nd year. Executive functions, behavior adaptation, and self-restraint were measured at 5 years. Regulatory functions showed stability across time, measures, and levels. Structural modeling demonstrated both mediated paths from physiological to self-regulation through emotional and attentional processes and direct continuity between vagal tone and each level of regulation. Results support the coherence of the regulation construct and are consistent with neurobiological models on self and consciousness.