Age-related differences in inhibitory control in the early school years

Jacqui A. Macdonald, Miriam H. Beauchamp, Judith A. Crigan, Peter J. Anderson

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49 Citations (Scopus)


The transition to school is associated with a greater requirement to inhibit irrelevant or inappropriate thought and behavior in order to concentrate on effective learning and to interact successfully with peers. Current knowledge of inhibitory control development in the early school years is limited due to a lack of normative data from age-appropriate, sensitive measures. In this study, three pictorial versions of the Stroop task were administered to investigate inhibitory control development in early school-aged children. Age-related trajectories of inhibition and effects of gender were examined in 80 children (42 boys) aged 5 to 8 years. All children were assessed with the Cognitive Assessment System Expressive Attention subtest (Big-Small Stroop), Fruit Stroop, and Boy-Girl Stroop. The Big-Small Stroop revealed substantial age-related improvement in inhibition from 5 to 7 years with a levelling of performance at 8 years of age, while the Fruit Stroop and Boy-Girl Stroop demonstrated clear but nonsignificant age trends. In particular, older children committed fewer errors and corrected their errors more frequently than younger children. Performance on all Stroop tasks correlated significantly, providing evidence that they tap similar cognitive abilities. Some gender differences were found. This study indicates that inhibitory skills develop rapidly in the early school years and suggests that error awareness may be a useful indicator of the development of cognitive inhibition for this age group. 

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)509-526
Number of pages18
JournalChild Neuropsychology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 3 Sep 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Development
  • Executive functions
  • Inhibition
  • Inhibitory control
  • Stroop task

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