Inhibitory control in adolescence: Developmental trajectories and relation to delinquent behavior
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Inhibitory control is a critical aspect of self-regulation and is hypothesized to develop throughout childhood and adolescence, reaching its peak in young adulthood. Despite its central role in several models of adolescent development, few studies have examined the longitudinal development of inhibitory control during adolescence and its association with maladaptive outcomes during this period. The current study evaluated: 1) growth trajectories of inhibitory control from early- to mid-adolescence, 2) the impact of reward on inhibition, and 3) the relationship between inhibition in early-to mid-adolescence and rule-breaking behavior in late adolescence. Participants (n= 387; 11-13 years old at Wave 1) completed an inhibitory control task (the Stop Signal Task; SST) in early adolescence and at yearly intervals for two subsequent years. The SST included a standard condition and a reward condition in which points were provided for correct responses. Participants and caregivers completed ratings of teens’ rule-breaking behaviors in late adolescence (Wave 7). Using latent growth curve modeling with the intercept centered at age 11, results showed that inhibitory control improved in a curvilinear manner. More rapid growth was observed during early adolescence and appeared to slow around mid-adolescence. Reward did not impact inhibitory control at any point in adolescence. Inhibition at age 11, but not trajectories of growth in inhibitory control, marginally predicted both parent- and target-reported rule-breaking behavior in late adolescence. This study provides a novel examination of inhibition during the first half of the adolescent period. It further provides critical but modest evidence of the predictive validity of inhibitory control. Results of this study lead us to call for evaluation of the full developmental time course of inhibitory control from early adolescence to young adulthood and for greater specificity of the developmental neuroscience theories that guide research on risky behavior outcomes in adolescence.