Individual Differences in Inhibitory Control and Children's Theory of Mind



This research examined the relation between individual differences in inhibitory control (IC; a central component of executive functioning) and theory-of-mind (ToM) performance in preschool-age children. Across two sessions, 3- and 4-year-old children (N=107) were given multitask batteries measuring IC and ToM. Inhibitory control was strongly related to ToM, r=.66, p < .001. This relation remained significant controlling for age, gender, verbal ability, motor sequencing, family size, and performance on pretend-action and mental state control tasks. Inhibitory tasks requiring a novel response in the face of a conflicting prepotent response (Conflict scale) and those requiring the delay of a prepotent response (Delay scale) were significantly related to ToM. The Conflict scale, however, significantly predicted ToM performance over and above the Delay scale and control measures, whereas the Delay scale was not significant in a corresponding analysis. These findings suggest that IC may be a crucial enabling factor for ToM development, possibly affecting both the emergence and expression of mental state knowledge. The implications of the findings for a variety of executive accounts of ToM are discussed.