The Effects of Cognitive Biases and Executive Functions on Resilience and Stress Adaptation in Preadolescence


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Awarding Institution
  • Qiong Zhang (External person) (External Supervisor)
  • Xiaonan Nancy YU (Supervisor)
Award date11 Jul 2022


The age of 10 to 12 is regarded as preadolescence, a crucial stage in an individual’s transition from childhood to adolescence. Preadolescents experience tremendous physical, psychological, and social changes during this period, and cumulative stress likely triggers their psychosocial maladaptation. As a positive stress-coping process, resilience helps successfully adapt to stress, threat, or adversity. In recent years, researchers have proposed a cognitive model of resilience, emphasizing the importance of cognitive biases and executive functions in the stress-coping process. However, this model still lacks a systematic discussion of the interplay between the two cognitive processes and resilience. Based on this, this dissertation intended to systematically investigate the role of cognitive bias and executive function on preadolescent resilience and stress adaptation in four studies.

Study 1 examined the roles of cognitive biases (i.e., attention bias, memory bias, and interpretation bias) in shaping the resilience process. The results showed that cognitive biases work as mediators in the associations between stressful life events, resilience, and psychological distress, indicating that higher life stress activates negative biases in attention, memory, and interpretation, further related to lower resilience and maladaptation.

Study 2 investigated the associations between executive functions (i.e., inhibitory control, working memory updating, and cognitive flexibility) and resilience. I used multiple cognitive tasks to tap on executive functions and integrated the process and outcome-oriented resilience conceptualizations in a three-wave design to examine the longitudinal associations between executive functions and resilience. The results showed that inhibitory control was concurrently associated with resilience and stress adaptation, working memory updating predicted long-term resilience, and cognitive flexibility predicted long-term stress adaptation.

Study 3 examined the interplay between cognitive biases and executive functions in the resilience process. Particularly, I measured cognitive biases and executive functions by a series of behavioral tasks and self-reports. Results showed that both cognitive processes were associated with resilience, but cognitive biases explained more variation. Moreover, I demonstrated a chained mediation model from stressful life events to cognitive biases, executive functions, resilience, and psychological distress.

Study 4 tested the effectiveness of cognitive biases and executive functions interventions on resilience. Three intact classes were allocated as three groups: cognitive biases training (n = 35), executive functions training (n = 33), and a no-intervention control group (n = 37). Cognitive modules were embedded into school psychoeducation activities, including eight sessions lasting four weeks. Pre-, post-, and two-month follow-up results showed that both intervention groups reported significant improvements in resilience, cognitive biases, and executive functions compared to the control group. Larger gains in the cognitive biases modification group replicated the dominant role of cognitive biases in resilience processes, as I found in Study 3.

To conclude, these findings pinpointed the interdependence of cognitive biases and executive function in shaping resilience, highlighting the dual processing cognitive model of resilience processes. These studies expand the cognitive model of resilience and provide implications for developing ecologically valid resilience interventions based on these cognitive processes. Future research may benefit from examining behavioral and physiological mechanisms of this dual processing through techniques such as eye-tracking and neuroscience methods.

    Research areas

  • resilience, cognitive biases, executive functions, preadolescents