Introduction: Despite the central role of inhibitory control in models of adolescent development, few studies have examined the longitudinal development of inhibitory control within adolescence and its prospective association with maladaptive outcomes. The current study evaluated: 1) growth in inhibitory control from early- to middle-adolescence, and 2) the relation between inhibitory control and later delinquency.
Methods: Participants included 387 parent-child dyads (11–13 years old at Wave 1; 55% female; USA). Across three annual assessments, teens completed the Stop Signal Task (SST), and parents completed the Inhibitory Control subscale of the Early Adolescent Temperament QuestionnaireRevised. Teens self-reported their delinquent behaviors in early (Mage = 12.1) and middle adolescence (Mage = 14.1) and emerging adulthood (Mage = 18.2).
Results: Latent growth curve models indicated that SST performance improved curvilinearly from early to middle adolescence (ages 11–15), with growth slowing around middle adolescence. However, no growth in parent-reported inhibitory control was observed. Lower task-based and parent-reported inhibitory control in early adolescence predicted greater increases in delinquency from middle adolescence to emerging adulthood. However, rate of growth in taskbased inhibitory control was unrelated to later delinquency.
Conclusions: This longitudinal study provides a novel examination of the development of inhibitory control across early and middle adolescence. Results suggest that the degree to which inhibitory control confers risk for later delinquency may be captured in early adolescence, consistent with neurodevelopmental accounts of delinquency risk. Differences across assessment tools also highlight the need for careful measurement considerations in future work, as taskbased measures may be better suited to capture within-person changes over time.
Inhibitory control is critical for engaging in adaptive, goal-directed behavior. Successful inhibition involves suppressing a dominant or prepotent response in order to execute a subdominant but adaptive response (Barkley, 1997). Poor inhibitory control consistently exhibits cross-sectional associations with externalizing behavior problems, including Oppositional Defiant Disorder, substance use disorders (Lipszyc & Schachar, 2010; Wright, Lipszyc, Dupuis, Thayapararajah, & Schachar, 2014), and antisocial behavior (Oosterlaan, Logan, & Sergeant, 1998). Most research on the development of inhibitory control has focused on the childhood period (e.g., Posner & Rothbart, 2000), even though inhibitory control continues to develop throughout adolescence. Protracted development of self-regulatory systems is considered a key mechanism contributing to the increase in risky and delinquent behaviors often observed during adolescence (Casey, Getz, & Galvan, 2008; Crone & Dahl, 2012; Steinberg, 2008). Despite the importance of inhibitory control in models of adolescent development, studies within the adolescent period are often cross-sectional; longitudinal studies generally have not evaluated the pattern of change nor the extent of individual differences in change over time, precluding a fine-grained analysis of development. The current longitudinal study addresses this gap in the literature and advances the field's understanding of inhibitory control by 1) examining growth in inhibitory control from early to middle adolescence and 2) testing the degree to which initial levels of inhibitory control at age 11, as well as growth in inhibitory control from ages 11 to 15, relates to later delinquent behavior.