Educators have long known that adolescents with emotional and behavior disorders have trouble dealing with stress.
But research has been lacking in how middle school-age kids with behavior problems and poor “executive functioning” skills respond to stressful situations at school, such as peer pressure and academic challenges.
Executive functioning abilities are essentially tools for living — foundational mental processes that allow one to succeed at work, school and in relationships; they involve inhibition, working memory and mental flexibility, which are crucial for doing things independently, planning, paying attention, managing time, and controlling our emotions and behaviors.
“Nobody has looked at this in terms of students with and without behavior problems, and the variables that contribute to and escalate emotional and behavioral problems,” says Michelle Cumming, an education scholar who last summer received a doctorate in Special Education from the College of Education at the University of Florida. She now is an assistant professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
For her dissertation, Cumming sought to better understand the relationships among stress, executive function, stress regulation, and emotional and behavioral outcomes of middle school students with and without behavior problems.

Michelle Cumming, a 2016 Ph.D. grad of the College of Education, shows certificate she received from the Council for Exceptional Children for research looking into how stress affects students with emotional and behavioral problems.