Date of Award

12-1-2018

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Kibby, Michelle

Abstract

Researchers have found executive functioning (EF) to be important for reading and math performance but have paid less attention to their role in writing. Van Dijk and Kintsch (1983) identified three levels of writing: microstructure, macrostructure, and superstructure. The existing work on EF and writing has several limitations: researchers have primarily focused on microstructural writing in children, studied a limited range of EF, not included measures of self-reported EF to compare to laboratory-/lab-based-based measures of EF and not examined the differential contributions of multiple EF to the different levels of writing. Hence, the purpose of this study was to better understand the differential involvement of various laboratory and self-reported EF across various levels of micro- and macrostructural writing measures in emerging adult writing. Results indicated that inhibition was a significant predictor of microstructural writing, such that working carefully increases the accuracy of spelling and mechanics skills. Working memory was related to microstructural grammar and mechanics sentence formulation, potentially through processing the sentences, mentally manipulating the sentence structure, and recording the response while maintaining the sentence information in mind. Verbal fluency was related to microstructural spelling and grammar and mechanics accuracy, as well as macrostructural essay organization, possibly through the ability to efficiently retrieve knowledge critical to perform these tasks. The main analyses did not yield significant results for macrostructural theme development, likely due to methodological issues, but an exploratory analysis demonstrated that organization and problem solving skills predicted theme development, potentially through the ability to think critically about, and organize, the arguments made. Finally, lab-based EF measures were better predictors of the writing measures than the self-reported EF measure, suggesting that these two methods captured different aspects of EF, and that the lab-based predictors were more appropriate to use with lab-based outcome variables, likely due to their narrower and less environmentally-influenced constructs. The results of this study help inform the factors that contribute to writing skills, and this knowledge can be used to improve the detection of writing difficulties and to target writing interventions.

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