Building Better Programs

Executive Function News – September 2015

Using Executive Function Principles to Build More Effective Employment and Human Service Programs

In This September 2015 Issue

Executive Functions and Social Connections

Previous WebinarAdministering & Using the Adult Executive Skills Profile (Recorded)

Executive Functions and Social Connections

In her webinar last year, Adele Diamond noted that one of the factors that negatively impacts executive functions is loneliness.  This suggests that helping individuals to build social connections may improve their cognitive functioning.  Two programs leading the way in the use of executive function concepts and practices in their work — the New Haven (CT) MOMS Partnership and Crittenton Women’s Union Mobility Mentoring program – have both built in explicit practices to help program participants build and strengthen their social networks.

A descriptive study by researchers at Howard University provides evidence of the relationship between social connections and executive function skills.1  The researchers studied the link between social connections and two core executive functions — cognitive flexibility (ability to switch or alternate attention between tasks) and inhibitory control (ability to suppress impulsive responses)—among middle-aged African Americans.  The researchers used the Interpersonal Support Evaluation List to measure four different types of support:

  • Belonging support;  perceived availability of individuals with whom one can do things
  • Appraisal support:  perceived availability of someone to talk to about problems
  • Tangible support:  perceived availability of material assistance and assistance with activities of daily living
  • Self-esteem support:  perceived availability of having a positive comparison when comparing one’s self to another.

They found that greater overall support and greater levels of each kind of support had a positive influence on inhibitory control; the strongest relationship was with tangible and belonging support.  Tangible support also was associated with greater cognitive flexibility but the other types of support were not.  The availability of tangible support meant that individuals had more resources to draw upon to solve the problems they encountered.  Functional support (the combination of the four types of support) was found to protect individuals from the detrimental effects of high levels of stress.

This study suggests that increasing social connections could potentially help program participants to control their impulsive responses (which can lead to job loss).  Providing tangible support such as child care or transportation assistance may reduce their stress level and thereby increase their ability to problem solve.

1Sims, R.C., Levy, S. A., Mwendwa, D.T., Callender, C.O., & Campbell, A. L. (2011). The influence of functional social support on executive functioning in middle-aged African Americans. Neuropsychol Dev Cogn B Aging Neuropsychol Cogn. 2011 Jul; 18(4): 414–431. doi:  10.1080/13825585.2011.567325

Previous Webinar

Administering & Using the Adult Executive Skills Profile
Presenter: Richard Guare, Ph.D., D-BCBA, Neuropsychologist and board certified Behavior Analyst

This is the first in a series of webinars that will provide information on tools for integrating EF principles and concepts into programs.

The adult executive skills profile can be used to help an individual understand their strengths and weaknesses and to help program staff better anticipate where additional support may be needed to help individuals set and achieve their goals.

Watch a recording of the webinar and view a copy of the slides here.