Children can’t control their inhibitions until age 4, researchers note
The Sector > Research > Understanding Children > Children can’t control their inhibitions until age 4, researchers note

Children can’t control their inhibitions until age 4, researchers note

by Freya Lucas

July 26, 2022

Self control and the ability to manage one’s inhibitions does not develop in children until the age of approximately four years, neuroscience research has found.


As the brain regions linked to self-control mature, preschoolers improve in their ability to stop themselves from doing something, according to the new research which was recently published in JNeurosci.


Inhibitory control – that is, the ability to “hold back” – doesn’t develop until around the age of four years. In adolescence and adulthood, inhibitory control stems from a group of brain regions called the cognitive control network, but how the ability develops in young children is not well known.


To reach their conclusions, the researchers examined the maturation of brain regions in three- and four-year-old children using MRI and compared it with their inhibitory control abilities. To test neutral inhibitory control, the researchers told the children to follow instructions from one sock puppet but ignore the instructions of another. 


To test emotional inhibitory control, the researchers placed candy in front of the children and told them if they did not eat it now, they would get more later.


The four-year-olds performed better at both tasks than the three-year-olds. Children with better inhibitory control had larger brain regions and stronger white matter connections in the cognitive control network. Each type of inhibitory control was tied to the maturation of distinct and separate regions in the network, indicating separate neural bases for different aspects of the development of inhibitory control.


The paper, Maturational Indices of the Cognitive Control Network Are Associated With Inhibitory Control in Early Childhood, may be accessed using the link provided.  

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