Investigating the links between the subcomponents of executive function and academic achievement: A cross-cultural analysis of Chinese and American preschoolers

Little is known about how components of executive function (EF) jointly and uniquely predict different aspects of academic achievement and how this may vary across cultural contexts. In the current study, 119 Chinese and 139 American preschoolers were tested on a battery of EF tasks (i.e., inhibition, working memory, and attentional control) as well as academic achievement tasks (i.e., reading and mathematics). Results demonstrate that although working memory performance in both cultures was comparable, Chinese children outperformed American children on inhibition and attentional control tasks. In addition, the relation between components of EF and achievement was similar in the two countries. Working memory uniquely predicted academic achievement, with some intriguing patterns in regard to tasks requiring complex processing. Inhibition uniquely predicted counting but did not uniquely predict calculation. Attentional control predicted most aspects of achievement uniformly and was the most robust predictor for reading in both countries. In sum, the data provide insight into both cultural variability and consistency in the development of EF during early childhood.