Hidden talents in context: Can ecologically relevant stimuli improve cognitive performance among adversity-exposed youth?

Ethan S. Young, Willem E. Frankenhuis, Danielle J. DelPriore, & Bruce J. Ellis

  • Adversity-exposed youth often perform poorly on standard cognitive tests. However, the hidden tal- ents approach proposes some abilities are enhanced by adversity, especially under ecologically rel- evant conditions. Sampling 618 adolescents (M age = 13.62, SD age = 0.81; 48.22% female; 64.56% White), we administered two versions of an attention shifting and working memory updating task— one abstract, one ecological. We measured environmental unpredictability, violence, and poverty, and tested adversity × task version interactions. There were no interactions for attention shifting, but there were main effects of unpredictability and violence, indicating improved attention shift- ing, on average. For working memory updating, violence- and poverty-exposed youth performed worse on the abstract but not the ecological version, equalizing performance. We found no relation between updating and unpredictability.

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