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Goal Setting Deficits at 13 Years in Very Preterm Born Children

  • Kristina M. Haebich (a1) (a2), Catherine Willmott (a1) (a3), Rachel Ellis (a2), Alice C. Burnett (a2) (a4) (a5), Shannon E. Scratch (a2) (a6) (a7), Leona Pascoe (a1) (a2), Megan M. Spencer-Smith (a1) (a2), Jeanie L.Y. Cheong (a2) (a4) (a8), Terrie E. Inder (a9), Lex W. Doyle (a2) (a4) (a5) (a8), Deanne K. Thompson (a2) (a5) (a10) and Peter J. Anderson (a1) (a2)...


Objectives: Preterm children demonstrate deficits in executive functions including inhibition, working memory, and cognitive flexibility; however, their goal setting abilities (planning, organization, strategic reasoning) remain unclear. This study compared goal setting abilities between very preterm (VP: <30 weeks/<1250 grams) and term born controls during late childhood. Additionally, early risk factors (neonatal brain abnormalities, medical complications, and sex) were examined in relationship to goal setting outcomes within the VP group. Methods: Participants included 177 VP and 61 full-term born control children aged 13 years. Goal setting was assessed using several measures of planning, organization, and strategic reasoning. Parents also completed the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function. Regression models were performed to compare groups, with secondary analyses adjusting for potential confounders (sex and social risk), and excluding children with major neurosensory impairment and/or IQ<70. Within the VP group, regression models were performed to examine the relationship between brain abnormalities, medical complications, and sex, on goal setting scores. Results: The VP group demonstrated a clear pattern of impairment and inefficiency across goal setting measures, consistent with parental report, compared with their full-term born peers. Within the VP group, moderate/severe brain abnormalities on neonatal MRI predicted adverse goal setting outcomes at 13. Conclusions: Goal setting difficulties are a significant area of concern in VP children during late childhood. These difficulties are associated with neonatal brain abnormalities, and are likely to have functional consequences academically, socially and vocationally. (JINS, 2018, 24, 372–381)


Corresponding author

Correspondence and reprint requests to: Peter Anderson, School of Psychological Sciences, Monash University, 18 Innovation Walk, Clayton Campus, Clayton VIC 3800. E-mail:


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