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

  • Children developing in harsh conditions often perform poorly on standard cognitive tests. However, the hidden talents approach proposes that performance for some abilities may be enhanced by adversity or improved under ecologically relevant conditions. We examine ecologically relevant content in cognitive testing. Sampling 618 socioeconomically diverse adolescents, we measured performance on two versions of an attention shifting and working memory updating task—one abstract, the other ecological. Across multiple sources, we measured environmental unpredictability, violence, and poverty, and tested adversity × task version interactions using a preregistered multiverse approach. We did not find adversity × task version interactions for attention shifting, but there were main effects of unpredictability and violence, indicating improved attention shifting irrespective of task version. For working memory updating, violence- and poverty-exposed youth performed worse on the abstract but not the ecological version, equalizing performance among adversity-exposed youth. We found no relation between updating performance and unpredictability.



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