Skip to main content

Executive Function Components: Part 2 Inhibitory Control

inhibit pic

Executive Function Components: Part 2 Inhibitory Control

Do you know a child who just can’t sit still or pay attention in class? Maybe you know one who is always acting out? There’s a good chance these children struggle with inhibitory control. This is the second part of a series on the core executive functions. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.


What is Inhibitory Control?

Inhibitory control is the ability to resist impulses and distractions. Think about the game Simon Says. The goal is to do what Simon says to do, but only when “Simon says” comes before the instructions. Inhibitory control is what helps children resist the urge to act when Simon doesn’t say to. Young children may not have developed good self-control. This is a skill that continues to develop into adolescence. [1]


Inhibitory Control, Learning, & Social Emotional Skills

Inhibitory control helps children pay attention in school and focus on their work. [2] It predicts early math and literacy skills. [2,3,4,5] This skill greatly influences behavior. It helps children override impulses and act appropriately. [1,6] This allows children to choose how to act, rather than react. [1] For example, a child uses inhibitory control when she resists shouting out the answer in class, and raises her hand to be called on instead. [7] Poor inhibitory control is associated with poor attending and behavior problems. [6,8,9] Children with strong inhibitory control can control their emotions [10,11] and get along well with others. [1,12,13] They tend to have good social skills [14] and many close friends. [13]

We will discuss ways to support the development of this skill in upcoming posts!


Below you will also find a handout about inhibitory control for parents that you can download and share.

[1] Diamond, A. (2013). Executive functions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 135-168.
[2] Diamond, A., Barnett, W. S., Thomas, J., & Munro, S. (2007). Preschool program improves cognitive control. Science (New York, NY), 318(5855), 1387.
[3] Bull, R., Espy, K. A., & Wiebe, S. A. (2008). Short-term memory, working memory, and executive functioning in preschoolers: Longitudinal predictors of mathematical achievement at age 7 years. Developmental Neuropsychology,33(3), 205-228.
[4] Blair, C., & Razza, R. P. (2007). Relating effortful control, executive function, and false belief understanding to emerging math and literacy ability in kindergarten. Child Development,78(2), 647-663.
[5] McClelland, M. M., Cameron, C. E., Connor, C. M., Farris, C. L., Jewkes, A. M., & Morrison, F. J. (2007). Links between behavioral regulation and preschoolers' literacy, vocabulary, and math skills. Developmental psychology, 43(4), 947.
[6] Hughes, C., White, A., Sharpen, J., & Dunn, J. (2000). Antisocial, angry, and unsympathetic: “Hard-to-manage” preschoolers' peer problems and possible cognitive influences. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 41(2), 169-179.
[7] Tominey, S. L., & McClelland, M. M. (2011). Red light, purple light: Findings from a randomized trial using circle time games to improve behavioral self-regulation in preschool. Early Education & Development, 22(3), 489-519.
[8] Brophy, M., Taylor, E., & Hughes, C. (2002). To go or not to go: Inhibitory control in ‘hard to manage’ children. Infant and Child Development, 11(2), 125-140.
[9] Riggs, N. R., Blair, C. B., & Greenberg, M. T. (2004). Concurrent and 2-year longitudinal relations between executive function and the behavior of 1st and 2nd grade children. Child Neuropsychology, 9(4), 267-276.
[10] Carlson, S. M., Moses, L. J., & Breton, C. (2002). How specific is the relation between executive function and theory of mind? Contributions of inhibitory control and working memory. Infant and Child Development, 11(2), 73-92.
[11] Carlson, S. M., & Wang, T. S. (2007). Inhibitory control and emotion regulation in preschool children. Cognitive Development, 22(4), 489-510.
[12] Riggs, N. R., Jahromi, L. B., Razza, R. P., Dillworth-Bart, J. E., & Mueller, U. (2006). Executive function and the promotion of social–emotional competence. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 27(4), 300-309.
[13] Nakamichi, K. (2017). Differences in young children’s peer preference by inhibitory control and emotion regulation. Psychological Reports, 0033294117709260.
[14] Rhoades, B. L., Greenberg, M. T., & Domitrovich, C. E. (2009). The contribution of inhibitory control to preschoolers' social–emotional competence. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 30(3), 310-320.