NSCAW, No. 1: Inhibitory Control Abilities Among Young Children in the Child Welfare System

Publication Date: April 15, 2009


This methods brief assesses the usability and validity of two tools to assess one executive function, inhibitory control, within a large survey of CWS-involved children. Inhibitory control is defined as the capacity voluntarily to inhibit or regulate prepotent (i.e., strong or automatic) attentional or behavioral responses. Inhibitory control involves the ability to focus on relevant stimuli in the presence of irrelevant stimuli (e.g., to attend to the teacher’s instructions in a noisy classroom) and to override strong but inappropriate behavioral tendencies (e.g., to refrain from responding to every command in a game of “Simon says”).

Recent neuroimaging studies with older children and adults suggest that regions of the brain’s prefrontal cortex subtend these abilities. Furthermore, these studies indicate that inhibitory control abilities and the involved brain regions have a prolonged developmental course that begins in early childhood and continues into adolescence. Behavioral studies show that young children are more susceptible to interference from irrelevant stimuli and inappropriate behavioral tendencies than older children and adults.

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