Many interventions targeting executive function (EF) development in the preschool period, where malleability might be particularly high, have been created and evaluated. We conducted a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) on the effects of these interventions on (a) EFs in preschool children from the general population as well as preschool children with (symptoms of) attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and (b) ADHD and ODD symptoms in preschool children with ADHD/ODD (symptoms). Literature search yielded 35 RCTs. Risk of bias of the individual studies was assessed. A random-effects model was used. Moderator effects were tested using mixed model analyses. The overall effects on EFs were: d = 0.46 (95% CI 0.30-0.61) for working memory (WM), d = 0.30 (95% CI 0.21-0.38) for inhibitory control (IC), d = 0.33 (95% CI - 0.04 to 0.71) for reward-related IC, and d = 0.47 (95% CI 0.28-0.66) for flexibility. In children with ADHD/ODD, mean effects were d = 0.64 (95% CI 0.31-0.96) for WM and d = 0.46 (95% CI 0.07-0.84) for IC. Studies on reward-related IC and FL were lacking. Effects on ODD and ADHD symptoms were d = 0.40 (95% CI - 0.23 to 1.03) and d = 0.28 (95% CI - 0.08 to 0.64), respectively. Interventions targeting multiple EFs and using interpersonal cognitive scaffolding approaches showed large and statistically significant effects on ADHD and ODD symptoms. In preschool children of the general population and in those with ADHD/ODD (symptoms), interventions led to an improvement of EF performance. In children with ADHD and ODD, cognitive scaffolding interventions were most effective in terms of reducing ADHD and ODD symptoms. However, more well-controlled studies need to be conducted before any firm conclusions can be drawn. Copyright © 2020, The Author(s).
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