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Early developmental influences on self-esteem trajectories from adolescence through adulthood: Impact of birth weight and motor skills

  • Kristie L. Poole (a1), Louis A. Schmidt (a1), Mark A. Ferro (a2), Cheryl Missiuna (a1), Saroj Saigal (a1), Michael H. Boyle (a1) and Ryan J. Van Lieshout (a1)...


While the trajectory of self-esteem from adolescence to adulthood varies from person to person, little research has examined how differences in early developmental processes might affect these pathways. This study examined how early motor skill development interacted with preterm birth status to predict self-esteem from adolescence through the early 30s. We addressed this using the oldest known, prospectively followed cohort of extremely low birth weight (<1000 g) survivors (N = 179) and normal birth weight controls (N = 145) in the world, born between 1977 and 1982. Motor skills were measured using a performance-based assessment at age 8 and a retrospective self-report, and self-esteem was reported during three follow-up periods (age 12–16, age 22–26, and age 29–36). We found that birth weight status moderated the association between early motor skills and self-esteem. Stable over three decades, the self-esteem of normal birth weight participants was sensitive to early motor skills such that those with poorer motor functioning manifested lower self-esteem, while those with better motor skills manifested higher self-esteem. Conversely, differences in motor skill development did not affect the self-esteem from adolescence to adulthood in individuals born at extremely low birth weight. Early motor skill development may exert differential effects on self-esteem, depending on whether one is born at term or prematurely.


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Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Kristie L Poole, MiNDS Neuroscience Graduate Program, McMaster University, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, ON L8S 4K1, Canada; E-mail:


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This research was supported by Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Team Grant TMH-103145 (to L.A.S.) and CIHR MOP42536 (to S.S.) and National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Grant 1-R01HD40219 (to S.S.). We thank the many participants and their families for their continued participation in the study. The authors have no conflict of interest.



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