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The Mediational Role of Neurocognition in the Behavioral Outcomes of a Social-Emotional Prevention Program in Elementary School Students: Effects of the PATHS Curriculum

Neuropsychology is one field that holds promise in the construction of comprehensive, developmental models for the promotion of social competence and prevention of problem behavior. Neuropsychological models of behavior suggest that children’s neurological functioning affects the regulation of strong emotions, as well as performance in social, cognitive, and behavioral spheres. The current study examines the underlying neurocognitive conceptual theory of action of one social-emotional development program. Hypothesized was that inhibitory control and verbal fluency would mediate the relationship between program condition and teacher-reported externalizing and internalizing behavior problems. Participants were 318 regular education students enrolled in the second or third grade. A series of regression analyses provided empirical support for (a) the effectiveness of the PATHS Curriculum in promoting inhibitory control and verbal fluency and (b) a partial mediating role for inhibitory control in the relation between prevention condition and behavioral outcomes. Implications are that programs designed to promote social and emotional development should consider comprehensive models that attend to neurocognitive functioning and development. Lack of consideration of neurocognitive pathways to the promotion of social competence may ignore important mechanisms through which prevention affects youth outcomes. Furthermore, the findings suggest that developers of social-emotional preventions should design curricula to explicitly promote the developmental integration of executive functioning, verbal processing, and emotional awareness. Doing so may enhance prevention outcomes particularly if those preventions are implemented during a time of peak neurocognitive development