Individual Differences in Inhibitory Control Skills at Four Years of Age

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Virginia Tech

Inhibitory Control (IC), a vital facet of childhood development, involves the ability to suppress a dominant response, as well as the ability to suppress irrelevant thoughts and behaviors. This ability emerges during the first year of life and develops rapidly during the preschool years. A variety of tasks have been developed to measure IC in this age group and, recently, research has demonstrated important differences in task performance according to various distinctions among these tasks. One under-researched distinction is that of whether an IC task requires the child to give a verbal or a motoric response. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine, in 4-year-old children, the differences and similarities among IC tasks requiring either a verbal or a motoric response. Differences were explored with respect to the contributions to verbal and motoric IC performance of language, intelligence, temperament, and frontal encephalography, as well as with respect to social and school readiness outcomes.

IC was best described by a two-component model, distinguishing verbal and motoric IC. Both baseline and task electrophysiology contributed to task performance in the verbal Yes-No task as well as the motoric IC composite. Language and intelligence, too, were associated with both verbal and motoric IC, although nonverbal intelligence was less strongly correlated with verbal IC than it was with motoric IC. All laboratory measures of IC related to parent report of children’s IC as well as to other parent-reported temperament scales and factors. Children’s verbal and motoric IC were associated, too, with children’s social development, surprisingly showing the most consistent associations with social inhibition. Asocial behavior positively correlated more strongly with motoric IC than with verbal IC. Children’s laboratory IC positively correlated with their school readiness, even when controlling for their intelligence although children’s emergent literacy more positively related to their motoric, rather than verbal, IC. An interaction of intelligence and IC contributed to social variables, but not to school readiness.

This research supports the important distinction between verbal and motoric IC, and demonstrates the utility of including an array of measures of both in early childhood research.

Inhibitory control, executive function, social development, school readiness, EEG