Social Adjustment in Adolescents Born Very Preterm: Evidence for a Cognitive Basis of Social Problems

E. Sabrina Twilhaar, Jorrit F. de Kieviet, Catharina E. Bergwerff, Martijn J. J. Finken, Ruurd M. van Elburg, Jaap Oosterlaan

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10 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To increase the understanding of social adjustment and autism spectrum disorder symptoms in adolescents born very preterm by studying the role of emotion recognition and cognitive control processes in the relation between very preterm birth and social adjustment. Study design: A Dutch cohort of 61 very preterm and 61 full-term adolescents aged 13 years participated. Social adjustment was rated by parents, teachers, and adolescents and autism spectrum disorder symptoms by parents. Emotion recognition was assessed with a computerized task including pictures of child faces expressing anger, fear, sadness, and happiness with varying intensity. Cognitive control was assessed using a visuospatial span, antisaccade, and sustained attention to response task. Performance measures derived from these tasks served as indicators of a latent cognitive control construct, which was tested using confirmatory factor analysis. Mediation analyses were conducted with emotion recognition and cognitive control as mediators of the relation between very preterm birth and social problems. Results: Very preterm adolescents showed more parent- and teacher-rated social problems and increased autism spectrum disorder symptomatology than controls. No difference in self-reported social problems was observed. Moreover, very preterm adolescents showed deficits in emotion recognition and cognitive control compared with full-term adolescents. The relation between very preterm birth and parent-rated social problems was significantly mediated by cognitive control but not by emotion recognition. Very preterm birth was associated with a 0.67-SD increase in parent-rated social problems through its negative effect on cognitive control. Conclusions: The present findings provide strong evidence for a central role of impaired cognitive control in the social problems of adolescents born very preterm.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-73.e1
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of pediatrics
Early online date8 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019


  • adolescence
  • cognitive control
  • emotion recognition
  • preterm birth
  • social

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