Inhibitory processes in young children and individual variation in short-term memory

Kimberly Andrews Espy, Rebecca Bull

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


A precise definition of executive control remains elusive, related in part to the variations among executive tasks in the nature of the task demands, which complicate the identification of test-specific versus construct-specific performance. In this study, tasks were chosen that varied in the nature of the stimulus (verbal, nonverbal), response (naming, somatic motor), conflict type (proactive interference, distraction), and inhibitory process (attention control, response suppression) required. Then performance differences were examined in 184 young children (age range = 3 years 6 months to 6 years 1 month), comparing those with high (5 or more digits) and low (3 or fewer digits) spans to determine the dependence on short-term memory. Results indicated that there was communality in inhibitory task demands across instruments, although the specific pattern of task intercorrelations varied in children with high and low spans. Furthermore, only performance on attention control tasks-that is, that require cognitive engagement/disengagement among an internally represented rule or response set that was previously active versus those currently active-differed between children of high and low spans. In contrast, there were differences neither between children with high and low spans on response suppression tasks nor on tasks when considered by type of stimulus, response, or conflict. Individual differences in well-regulated thought may rest in variations in the ability to maintain information in an active, quickly retrievable state that subserve controlling attention in a goal-relevant fashion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)669-688
Number of pages20
JournalDevelopmental Neuropsychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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