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Normative Development of Inhibitory Control in Early Childhood: Associations with Maternal Behaviors

Thu, March 21, 4:00 to 5:15pm, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

Developing inhibitory control is an important developmental task, as higher levels of inhibitory control relate to better social skills (Rhoades, Greenberg, & Domitrovich, 2009), and less problem behavior (Van Dijk et al., 2017). Knowledge on the development of inhibitory control, and the factors that may affect this developmental course, is therefore important. Up to now, very few studies examined the early development of inhibitory control by looking at mean level increases or decreases over time (Moilanen et al., 2010; Chang, Shaw, Dishion Gardner, & Wilson, 2014). In addition, although associations between various parenting behaviors and children's inhibitory control are regularly reported (e.g., Conway & Stifter, 2012), less is known about parenting in relation to the development of inhibitory control.
The first aim of this longitudinal study was to examine the development of inhibitory control between the age of three to six. The second aim was to examine whether maternal behaviors affected the initial level and development of inhibitory control. Participants were 390 children (52.60% boys), aged 2.46 to 3.61 years (M= 3.02, SD=0.30) during the first wave. During four waves with a one-year interval, mothers reported on their children's inhibitory control using the Child Behavior Questionnaire (Rothbart, Ahadi, Hershey, & Fisher, 2001). Maternal structure, non-intrusiveness, and sensitivity were coded during the first wave using the Emotional Availability Scales (Biringen, Robinson, & Emde, 2000).
We estimated latent growth curves, using Robust Maximum Likelihood Estimation in the R-package Lavaan. Missing data was handled using Full Information Maximum Likelihood. First, we fitted a linear growth model, including an intercept and a linear slope factor and the covariance between these factors. Next, we added a quadratic growth factor, and examined whether this provided a significant improvement in model fit. We found that the quadratic model provided incremental fit over the linear model (Δχ2(4)=24.10, p<.001). As can be seen in figure 1, inhibitory control levels slightly decrease between age 3 and 4, which is followed by an increase.
Although there were individual differences in the intercept of inhibitory control, there was no significant variance in either the linear slope or the quadratic slope. The final model included a quadratic growth model, in which maternal sensitivity, structure, and non-intrusiveness were only regressed onto the intercept of inhibitory control. This model showed a good fit to the data (χ2(12)= 34.48, p=.001, CFI=.953, TLI=.930, RMSEA=.072). Inspection of parameters demonstrated that higher levels of maternal structure predicted higher initial levels of inhibitory control (b=0.07, p=.043). Surprisingly, lower levels of non-intrusiveness predicted higher initial levels of inhibitory control(b=-0.06, p=.021). Maternal sensitivity was unrelated to the intercept of inhibitory control(b=0.05, p=.156).
The findings demonstrate that, between the age of 3 and 6, children may differ in initial levels of inhibitory control, but the development of inhibitory control follows a relatively uniform pattern. Mothers who provide more structure and more show intrusiveness support children in their inhibitory control. This may be related to the finding that young children can profit from relatively directive parenting practices (Landry,Smith, Swank, & Miller-Loncar, 2000).