Effects of a Punitive Environment on Children's Executive Functioning: A Natural Experiment


Victoria Talwar, Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology, McGill University, 3700 McTavish, Montreal, QC, Canada H3A 1Y2. E-mail: victoria.talwar@mcgill.ca or Kang Lee, Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child study, University of Toronto, 45 Walmer Road, Toronto, Canada M5R 2X2. E-mail: kang.lee@utoronto.ca


Few studies have examined the influence of environmental factors on children's executive functioning (EF) performance. The present study examined the effects of a punitive vs. non-punitive school environment on West African children's EF skills. Tasks included a ‘cool’ (relatively non-affective) and ‘hot’ (relatively affective/motivational) version of three EF tasks: delay of gratification; gift delay; and dimensional change card sort. Children had more difficulties with the hot versions of the tasks than the cool versions, and older children outperformed younger children. After controlling for verbal ability (Peabody picture vocabulary test-third edition), a consistent pattern of interaction between school and grade level emerged. Overall, kindergarten children in the punitive school performed no differently than their counterparts in the non-punitive school. However, in grade 1, children in the punitive school performed significantly worse than their counterparts in the non-punitive school. These results point to the need to consider interactions among discipline style, age, and internalization processes of self-regulation to better understand environmental influences on EF development.