In this paper, we consider the developmental interactions between two domains sometimes characterised as at opposite ends of the human spectrum: early-developing arousal/regulatory domains, that subserve basic mechanisms of survival and homeostasis; and the later-developing ‘higher-order’ cognitive domain of effortful control, and how this interplays with theories of stress.
First, we examine how short-term fluctuations within arousal/regulatory systems associate with fluctuations in effortful control during early childhood. We present evidence suggesting that both hyper- and hypo-arousal are associated with immediate reductions in both attentional and affective control (the Aston-Jones framework); but that hyper-aroused individuals can show cognitive strengths (faster learning speeds) as well as weaknesses (reduced attentional control) (the Arnsten framework).
We also present evidence that, in infancy, both hyper- and hypo-aroused states may be more long-lasting than intermediate arousal states (Dynamic Systems Theory). Second, we examine long-term interactions between arousal/regulatory systems and effortful control. We present evidence that atypical early arousal/regulatory development predicts poorer attentional and affective control during later development.
And we consider mediating influences of the environment, such that elevated early arousal/regulatory system reactivity may confer both cognitive advantages in a supportive environment, and disadvantages in an unsupportive one (Differential Susceptibility Theory). Directions for future research are discussed.