Measuring the development of inhibitory control: The challenge of heterotypic continuity

Isaac T. Petersen, Caroline P. Hoyniak, Maureen E. McQuillan, John E. Bates, Angela D. Staples

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


Inhibitory control is thought to demonstrate heterotypic continuity, in other words, continuity in its purpose or function but changes in its behavioral manifestation over time. This creates major methodological challenges for studying the development of inhibitory control in childhood including construct validity, developmental appropriateness and sensitivity of measures, and longitudinal factorial invariance. We meta-analyzed 198 studies using measures of inhibitory control, a key aspect of self-regulation, to estimate age ranges of usefulness for each measure. The inhibitory control measures showed limited age ranges of usefulness owing to ceiling/floor effects. Tasks were useful, on average, for a developmental span of less than 3 years. This suggests that measuring inhibitory control over longer spans of development may require use of different measures at different time points, seeking to measure heterotypic continuity. We suggest ways to study the development of inhibitory control, with overlapping measurement in a structural equation modeling framework and tests of longitudinal factorial or measurement invariance. However, as valuable as this would be for the area, we also point out that establishing longitudinal factorial invariance is neither sufficient nor necessary for examining developmental change. Any study of developmental change should be guided by theory and construct validity, aiming toward a better empirical and theoretical approach to the selection and combination of measures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-71
Number of pages47
JournalDevelopmental Review
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016


  • Changing measures
  • Executive function
  • Inhibitory control
  • Longitudinal factorial invariance
  • Meta-analysis
  • Self-regulation


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