A fresh look at cross-cultural contrasts in executive function: Findings from the UK, Hong Kong and Mainland China

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Previous studies show that East Asian children outperform their Western counterparts on tests of executive function (EF), but interpretations of this geographical contrast are limited by the heavy reliance on school settings. In this study, we applied remote methods to administer three EF tasks in a home setting to 1002 children (Mage = 5.19 years, SD = 0.51; 51% male) from the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, and mainland China. Our results showed partial scalar measurement invariance across the three groups. In contrast with previous findings, British and mainland Chinese children showed similar levels of EF, and both groups outperformed their Hong Kong counterparts. Associations between EF and behavioural adjustment (indexed by parents’ ratings on the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire) were similar across the three sites, supporting the validity of our online EF assessments.
Bio: Prof Claire Hughes is a developmental psychologist with research interests that encompass young children’s cognitive development (especially executive function and theory of mind) and close family relationships (including with siblings and fathers). She adopts both longitudinal and cross-cultural designs to investigate the origins and consequences of individual differences in children’s development. For the past two decades she has been at the University of Cambridge, where she is a Fellow at Newnham College, Deputy HoD for Psychology (Wellbeing, Equality, Diversity) and Subject Convenor for the Psychology and Behavioural Sciences (PBS) Tripos. Before Cambridge, Claire worked for six years at Kings College London (on the topics of early child friendships and hard-to-manage pre-schoolers) and for two years in Paris, where she extended her Cambridge PhD work on executive dysfunction in autism by examining executive functions in parents and siblings of autistic children. Her current work is funded by the ESRC and by the WEMP Foundation in Hong Kong.