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

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2 Citations (SciVal)


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

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are very grateful to the families who have contributed to this study. We would also like to acknowledge the following individuals who contributed to data collection: Tessel Bazelmans, Mutluhan Ersoy, Sabira Habib, Greg Pasco (STAARS project); Sara Högberg, Fredrika Tham (EFFECT project); Nazanin Biabani, Anna Clark, Malin Karstens, Rebecca Thoburn Pallant, Isabel Quiroz (LonDownS Consortium); Bailey Wristen, Claire Essex, Clare Hansen (TABLET project); and to behavioural coding: Maxine Howard, Beliz Çelikbaş (STAARS project); Natalie Koorn (EFFECT project); Megan Tongs (TABLET project). The British Autism Study of Infant Siblings (BASIS)/Studying Autism and ADHD in at Risk Siblings (STAARS) project was funded by the Medical Research Council (MR/K021389/1); the EFFECT project funded by grant 421‐2012‐1222 from Vetenskapsrådet to Dr. Karin Brocki; the LonDownS Consortium funded by Wellcome Trust Strategic Award (grant number: 098330/Z/12/Z) and the TABLET project funded by a Philip Leverhulme Prize (PLP‐2013‐028). M. Agyapong is supported by an ESRC 1 + 3 PhD studentship. H. D'Souza is the Beatrice Mary Dale Research Fellow supported by Newnham College, University of Cambridge. R. Bedford is supported by a Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowship and King's Prize Fellowship (204823/Z/16/Z). A. Hendry is supported by the Scott Family Junior Research Fellowship at University College, University of Oxford, and was previously supported by an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship.


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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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