The role of inhibition in the development of cognitive efficiency

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Daryl Greenfield, Committee Chair


This study examined the development of young children's inhibitory processes. Twenty-five kindergarteners, 28 first graders, and 31 second graders were seen individually and given a category typicality rating task and an associative rating task. The information from these tasks was used to choose equivalent stimuli for a third experiment, in which each child was tested using a concept-interference task. The typicality (high or low) and the strength of association (high or low) of the two choice pictures were systematically varied, requiring different levels of cognitive inhibition to successfully complete the task. First and second graders made more correct responses than kindergartners. The children's performance on this task revealed inefficient inhibition in that each of the groups did equally well on the items containing the low associates to the prime whether or not the target item was of high or low typicality. The developmental progression was evident when only the kindergarteners responded at chance levels when confronted with a strong distractor. Speed of processing was also used to determine the efficiency of cognitive processing. When the distractor was a low associate or there was a high typical target, latencies to the correct response were equivalent. Response latencies were slower only when the child was presented with a high associate as a distractor paired with a low typical target. This is evidence for inefficient inhibition for children in this age group, despite the fact that second graders were able to respond faster overall. Latencies to incorrect responses also were analyzed. Increased processing speed was seen when a highly potent distractor was present. Developmentally, there was a gradual increase in the ability to inhibit cognitive responses, even when this inhibition was not sufficient to produce a correct response. Developmental changes in cognitive efficiency are shown not only to be influenced by activation processes, but also by the development of cognitive inhibitory processes. A developmental progression of the effects of inhibition was demonstrated that is continuous and interacts with the developing activation processes to produce different group results.


Psychology, Developmental

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