Inhibitory control and problem solving in early childhood: Exploring the burdens and benefits of high self-control

Alexandra Hendry, Mary A. Agyapong, Hana D'Souza, Matilda A. Frick, Ana Maria Portugal, Linn Andersson Konke, Hamish Cloke, Rachael Bedford, Tim J. Smith, Annette Karmiloff-Smith, Emily J.H. Jones, Tony Charman, Karin C. Brocki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Low inhibitory control (IC) is sometimes associated with enhanced problem-solving amongst adults, yet for young children high IC is primarily framed as inherently better than low IC. Here, we explore associations between IC and performance on a novel problem-solving task, amongst 102 English 2- and 3-year-olds (Study 1) and 84 Swedish children, seen at 18-months and 4-years (Study 2). Generativity during problem-solving was negatively associated with IC, as measured by prohibition-compliance (Study 1, both ages, Study 2 longitudinally from 18-months). High parent-reported IC was associated with poorer overall problem-solving success, and greater perseveration (Study 1, 3-year-olds only). Benefits of high parent-reported IC on persistence could be accounted for by developmental level. No concurrent association was observed between problem-solving performance and IC as measured with a Delay-of-Gratification task (Study 2, concurrent associations at 4-years). We suggest that, for young children, high IC may confer burden on insight- and analytic-aspects of problem-solving.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2297
JournalInfant and Child Development
Issue number3
Early online date5 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2022


  • divergent thinking
  • generativity
  • inhibitory control
  • problem-solving
  • self-regulation
  • toddlers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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