2020 Undergraduate Research Showcase

Document Type

Student Presentation

Presentation Date


Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Iryna Babik


Inhibitory control is one of the most appropriate measures of executive function in preschool aged children.1 Inhibitory control positively correlates with academic skills during early childhood.2, 3 Specifically, mathematical ability has a stronger relation with inhibitory control than do other academic skills (e.g., literacy).2 Both inhibitory control and mathematical ability are associated with activation and development of the prefrontal cortex.3 Cool inhibitory control—as opposed to hot inhibitory control—involves regulating behavior in situations void of personal or emotional relevance. Cool inhibitory control has a stronger correlation with mathematical ability than does hot inhibitory control.4 Interestingly, inhibitory control also correlates with greater relative frequency of pretend play actions and pretense representation.5 Again, cool inhibitory control displays a stronger correlation with pretend play than hot inhibitory control.5 Previous research also showed that a lack of pretend play in children may negatively affect the development of their prefrontal cortex.6 Therefore, we propose that early pretend play might facilitate the development of inhibitory control, which, in turn, would advance the development of executive function and math skills. Thus, inhibitory control might serve as a mediator in the relation between early pretend play and later-developing math skills.


  1. Carlson, S. M., Moses, L. J., & Breton, C. (2002). How specific is the relation between executive function and theory of mind? Contributions of inhibitory control and working memory. Infant and Child Development: An International Journal of Research and Practice, 11(2), 73–92. doi:10.1002/icd.298
  2. Allan, N. P., Hume, L. E., Allan, D. M., Farrington, A. L., & Lonigan, C. J. (2014). Relations between inhibitory control and the development of academic skills in preschool and kindergarten: A meta-analysis. Developmental Psychology, 50(10), 2368–2379. doi:10.1037/a0037493
  3. Willoughby, M. T., Kupersmidt, J. B., & Voegler-Lee, M. E. (2012). Is preschool executive function causally related to academic achievement? Child Neuropsychology, 18, 79–91. doi:10.1080/09297049.2011 .578572
  4. Brock, L. L., Rimm-Kaufman, S. E., Nathanson, L., & Grimm, K. J. (2009). The contributions of hot and cool executive function to children’s academic achievement, learning-related behaviors, and engagement in kindergarten. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 24, 337– 349. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2009.06.001
  5. Carlson, S. M., White, R. E., & Davis-Unger, A. C. (2014). Evidence for a relation between executive function and pretense representation in preschool children. Cognitive Development, 29, 1–16. doi:10.1016/j.cogdev.2013.09.001
  6. Lillard, A. S. (2017). Why do the children (pretend) play?. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 21(11), 826–834. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2017.08.001