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The Role of Inhibitory Control in Achievement in Early Childhood Education



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Irvan, Ryan [0000-0003-2877-4748 ] 


This review paper explores the relationship between academic achievement in early childhood education and inhibitory control, namely students’ ability to regulate behaviour, emotions and thoughts to complete specific tasks. The majority of research in this area has focused on achievement in mathematics, literacy or a combination of both. Despite the recent uptake of ‘whole child’ focused education initiatives, few studies explore social-emotional learning, or all three areas collectively, a gap this paper aims to address. This paper offers a comprehensive review of previous research on inhibitory control and achievement to highlight areas of focus for future research and provide a theoretical basis for study design. The review draws on articles published in the English language and systematically compares research methodologies to elucidate the choices made by researchers. The findings indicated correlations between inhibitory control and the three areas of early childhood education, mathematics, literacy and social-emotional learning, although causation is not established. Hot inhibitory control, involving emotion or an external motivator, was found to be closely related to social-emotional learning and cool inhibitory control, limited emotional and an abstract motivator, with mathematics and literacy. Notably, emergent literacy varied by the language spoken by students. A look at the measures and samples used revealed that purposefully employing inhibitory control measures that align with real-world classroom activities may provide greater insight into the relationship between achievement and inhibitory control. The findings of this paper pose significant implications for research, policy and practice, especially with the recent uptake of social-emotional learning by education programs, as they reveal how inhibitory control relates to students’ ability to thrive in early childhood education settings. In the light of these findings, it is important for educators and researchers to consider how inhibitory control may in itself, be considered a goal of early childhood education.



Early Childhood Education, Executive Functions, Inhibitory Control, Academic Achievement, Social-Emotional Learning

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Cambridge Educational Research e-Journal (CERJ)

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CERJ, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge

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