The early childhood inhibitory touchscreen task: A new measure of response inhibition in toddlerhood and across the lifespan


Research into the earliest development of inhibitory control is limited by a lack of suitable tasks. In particular, commonly used inhibitory control tasks frequently have too high language and working memory demands for children under 3 years of age. Furthermore, researchers currently tend to shift to a new set of inhibitory control tasks between infancy, toddlerhood, and early childhood, raising doubts about whether the same function is being measured. Tasks that are structurally equivalent across age could potentially help resolve this issue. In the current report, a new response inhibition task, the Early Childhood Inhibitory Touchscreen Task (ECITT), was developed. This task can be minimally modified to suit different ages, whilst remaining structurally equivalent. In the new task, participants have to overcome a tendency to respond to a frequently rewarded location on a touchscreen and instead make an alternative response. The ECITT was validated in three independent studies (with additional data, N = 166, reported in Supporting Information). In Study 1 (N = 81), cross-sectional data indicated that inhibitory performance on the task improved significantly between 24 and 30 months of age. In Study 2 (N = 38), longitudinal data indicated steady improvement in inhibitory control between 18, 21 and 24 months, with significant stability in individual performance differences between each consecutive age in terms of accuracy (but not in terms of reaction time). Finally, in Study 3 (N = 64), inhibitory performance on a faster-paced version of the same task showed a similar developmental course across the lifespan (4-84 years) to other response inhibition tasks and was significantly correlated with Stop-signal performance. The ECITT extends the assessment of response inhibition earlier than previous tasks-into early toddlerhood. Because the task is simple and structurally equivalent across age, future longitudinal studies should benefit from using the ECITT to investigate the development of inhibitory control in a consistent manner across the toddler years and beyond.

stop signal task, executive function, developmental-changes, individual-differences, cognitive control, self-regulation, young-children, performance, go, ability