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

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Agyapong, Mary A 
D'Souza, Hana 
Frick, Matilda A 
Portugal, Ana Maria 

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.


Funder: Economic and Social Research Council; Id:

Funder: Newnham College, University of Cambridge; Id:

Funder: University College, University of Oxford

EXPLORATORY REPORT, divergent thinking, generativity, inhibitory control, problem‐solving, self‐regulation, toddlers
Journal Title
Infant Child Dev
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King's College London (204823/Z/16/Z)
Leverhulme Trust (PLP‐2013‐028)
Medical Research Council (MR/K021389/1)
Vetenskapsrådet (421‐2012‐1222)
Wellcome Trust (098330/Z/12/Z)