We examined associations between child inhibitory control, harsh parental discipline and externalizing problems in 120 4 year-old boys and girls in the US, China, and Japan. Individual differences in children’s inhibitory control abilities, assessed using behavioral tasks and maternal ratings, were related to child externalizing problems reported by mothers. As predicted, both child inhibitory control and maternal harsh discipline made significant contributions to child externalizing problems in all three countries. Across countries, child inhibitory control and maternal harsh discipline made significant independent contributions to early externalizing problems, suggesting an additive model of association. Our findings supported the cross-cultural generalizability of child inhibitory control and parental harsh punishment as key contributors to disruptive behavior in young children.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Achenbach, T. M., & Rescorla, L. A. (2000). Manual of ASEBA preschool forms and profiles. Burlington: University of Vermont, Research Center for Children, Youth, and Families.
Ahadi, S. A., Rothbart, M. K., & Ye, R. M. (1993). Child temperament in the U. S. and China: Similarities and differences. European Journal of Personality, 7, 359–378.
Baillargeon, R. H., Zoccolillo, M., Keenan, K., Côte, S., Pérusse, D., Wu, H.-X., et al. (2007). Gender differences in physical aggression: A prospective population-based survey of children before and after 2 years of age. Developmental Psychology, 43, 13–26.
Bates, J. E., Pettit, G., Dodge, K. A., & Ridge, B. (1998). The interaction of temperamental resistance to control and restrictive parenting in the development of externalizing behavior. Developmental Psychology, 34, 982–995.
Bentler, P. M. (2006). EQS 6 structural equations program manual. Encino: Multivariate Software.
Bugental, D., & Grusec, J. (2006). Socialization processes. In N. Eisenberg, W. Damon, & R. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology, Vol. 3: Social, emotional, and personality development (6th Ed., pp. 366–428). Hokoken, NJ: John Wiley and sons.
Carlson, S. M. (2005). Developmentally sensitive measures of executive function in preschool children. Developmental Neuropsychology, 28, 595–616.
Carlson, S. M., & Moses, L. J. (2001). Individual differences in inhibitory control and children’s theory of mind. Child Development, 72(4), 1032–1053.
Carlson, S. M., Mandell, D. J., & Williams, L. (2004). Executive function and theory of mind: Stability and prediction from ages 2 to 3. Developmental Psychology, 40, 1105–1122.
Campbell, S. B., Shaw, D. S., & Gilliom, M. (2000). Early externalizing behavior problems: Toddlers and preschoolers at risk for later maladjustment. Development and Psychopathology, 12, 467–488.
Chang, H. C., Olson, S. L., Sameroff, A. J., & Sexton, H. (2011). Child effortful control as a mediator of parenting practices on externalizing behavior: Sex-differentiated pathways across the transition from preschool to school. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 39, 71–81.
Chang, L., Schwartz, D., Dodge, K. A., & McBride-Chang, C. (2003). Harsh parenting in relation to child emotion regulation and aggression. Journal of Family Psychology, 17(4), 598–606.
Chao, R. K., Taylor, R. D., Wang, M. C. (2000). Cultural explanations for the role of parenting in the school success of Asian-American children. In Resilience across contexts: Family, work, culture, and community (pp. 333–363). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers
Cheah, C. L., & Rubin, K. H. (2004). European American and Mainland Chinese mothers’ responses to aggression and social withdrawal in preschoolers. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 28, 83–94.
Chen, X., Cen, G., Li, D., & He, Y. (2005). Social functioning and adjustment in Chinese children: The imprint of historical time. Child Development, 76(1), 182–195.
Chen, X., Rubin, K. H., Liu, M., Chen, H., Wang, L., Li, D., et al. (2003). Compliance in Chinese and Canadian toddlers: A cross-cultural study. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 27(5), 428–436.
Chen, X., Wang, L., Chen, H., & Liu, M. (2002). Noncompliance and child-rearing attitudes as predictors of aggressive behavior: A longitudinal study in Chinese children. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 26(3), 225–233.
Combs-Ronto, L. A., Olson, S. L., Lunkenheimer, E. S., & Sameroff, A. J. (2009). Interactions between maternal parenting and children’s early disruptive behavior: Bidirectional Associations across the transition from preschool to school entry. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 37, 1151–1153.
Denham, S., Leonard, A. M., Rosenberg, K. L., Tangney, J. P., Widmaier, N. (1997). Socialization of Moral Affect- Parent of Preschoolers Form (SOMA- PP). George Mason University, Fairfax, VA. Unpublished Manuscript
Dennis, T. A., Talih, M., Cole, P. M., Zahn-Waxler, C., & Mizut, I. (2007). The socialization of autonomy and relatedness. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 38, 729–749.
Diamond, A., & Taylor, C. (1996). Development of an aspect of executive control: Development of the abilities to remember what I said and to ‘do as I say, not as I do’. Developmental Psychobiology, 29, 315–334.
Dodge, K. A., & Pettit, G. S. (2003). A biopsychosocial model of the development of chronic conduct problems in adolescence. Developmental Psychology, 39, 349–371.
Eisenberg, N., Chang, L., Ma, Y., & Hwang, Z. (2009). Relations of parenting style to Chinese children’s effortful control, ego resilience, and maladjustment. Development and Psychopathology, 21(2), 455–477.
Eisenberg, N., Ma, Y., Chang, L., Zhou, Q., West, S., & Aiken, L. (2007). Relations of effortful control, reactive under control and anger to Chinese children’s adjustment. Development and Psychopathology, 19(2), 385–409.
Else-Quest, N. M., Hyde, J. S., Goldsmith, H. H., & Van Hulle, C. A. (2006). Gender differences in temperament: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 33–72.
Fung, J. (2004). Parent socialization of emotions and preschool children’s emotion regulation in Hong Kong, Beijing, and the United States. Unpublished manuscript: University of Michigan
Garcia-Coll, C., Akerman, A., & Cicchetti, D. (2000). Cultural influences on developmental processes and outcomes: Implications for the study of development and psychopathology. Development and Psychopathology, 12, 333–356.
Gershoff, E. T. (2002). Corporal punishment by parents and associated child behaviors and experiences: A meta-analytic and theoretical review. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 539–579.
Gerstadt, C. L., Hong, Y. T., & Diamond, A. (1994). The relationship between cognition and action: Performance of children 3 1/2–7 years old on a Stroop-like day-night task. Cognition, 53, 129–153.
Gilliom, M., Shaw, D. S., Beck, J. E., Schonberg, M. A., & Lukon, J. L. (2002). Anger regulation in disadvantaged preschool boys: Strategies, antecedents, and the development of self-control. Developmental Psychology, 38, 222–235.
Grogan-Kaylor, A. (2005). Corporal punishment and the growth trajectory of children’s antisocial behavior. Child Maltreatment, 10, 283–292.
Hoffman, M. L. (2000). Empathy and moral development: Implications for caring and justice. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Hu, L., & Bentler, P. M. (1999). Cutoff criteria for fit indexes in covariance structure analysis: Conventional criteria versus new alternatives. Structural Equation Modeling, 6, 1–55.
Hughes, C., & Ensor, R. (2006). Behavioral problems in 2-year-olds: Links with individual differences in theory of mind, executive function and harsh parenting. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47, 488–499.
Hughes, C., White, A., Sharpen, J., & Dunn, J. (2000). Antisocial, angry and unsympathetic: “Hard to manage preschoolers” peer problems, and possible social and cognitive influences. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 41, 169–179.
Jones, L. B., Rothbart, M. K., & Posner, M. I. (2003). Development of executive attention in preschool children. Developmental Science, 6, 498–504.
Kagan, J., Snidman, N., McManis, M., Woodward, S., & Hardaly, C. (2002). One measure one meaning: Multiple measures, clearer meaning. Development and Psychopathology, 14, 463–475.
Keenan, K., & Shaw, D. (1997). Developmental and social influences on young girls’ early problem behavior. Psychological Bulletin, 121, 95–113.
Keenan, K., & Wakschlag, L. (2004). More than the terrible twos: The nature and severity of behavior problems in clinic-referred preschool children. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 28, 33–46.
Kochanska, G., Murray, K. T., & Harlan, E. T. (2000). Effortful control in early childhood: Continuity and change, antecedents, and implications for social development. Developmental Psychology, 36, 220–232.
Kojima, H. (1986). Japanese concepts of child development from the mid-17th to mid-19th century. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 9, 315–329.
Kornadt, H. J., & Tachibana, Y. (1999). Early childrearing and social motives after 9 years: A cross-cultural longitudinal study. In W. J. Lonner, D. L. Dinnel, D. K. Forgas, & S. A. Hayes (Eds.), Merging past, present and future in cross-cultural psychology: Selected papers from the Fourteenth International Congress of the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology (pp. 429–441). Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger.
Lansford, J. E., Chang, L., Dodge, K. A., Malone, P. S., Oburu, P., Palmerus, K., et al. (2005). Physical discipline and children’s adjustment: Cultural normativeness as a moderator. Child Development, 76(6), 1234–1246.
Lebra, T. S. (1994). Mother and child in Japanese socialization: A Japan-U.S. comparison. In P. N. Greenfield & R. R. Cocking (Eds.), Cross-cultural roots of minority child development (pp. 259–274). Hillsdale: Erlbaum.
Lieberman, D., Giesbrecht, G. F., & Muller, U. (2007). Cognitive and emotional aspects of self- regulation in preschoolers. Cognitive Development, 22, 511–529.
Liu, M., Chen, X., Rubin, K. H., Zheng, S., Cui, L., Li, D., et al. (2005). Autonomy- vs. connectedness-oriented parenting behaviours in Chinese and Canadian mothers. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 29(6), 489–495.
Liu, J., Cheng, H., & Leung, P. (2010). The application of the preschool child behavior checklist and the caregiver-teacher report form to mainland Chinese children: Symptom structure, gender differences, country effects, and inter-informant agreement. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 39(2), 251–264.
Luria, A. R., Pribram, K. H., & Homskaya, E. D. (1964). An experimental analysis of the behavioral disturbance produced by a left frontal arachnoidal endothelioma (meningioma). Neuropsychologica, 2, 257–280.
Mofitt, T. E. (1993). “Life course persistent” and “adolescence limited” antisocial behavior: A developmental taxonomy. Psychological Review, 100, 674–701.
Moffitt, T. E. (2003). Life course persistent and adolescence limited antisocial behavior: A 10-year research review and research agenda. In B. Lahey, T. Moffitt, & A. Caspi (Eds.), Causes of conduct disorder and juvenile delinquency. NY: Guilford.
Morris, A. S., Silk, J. S., Steinberg, L., Sessa, F. M., Avenevoli, S., & Essex, M. J. (2002). Temperamental vulnerability and negative parenting as interacting predictors of child adjustment. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 461–471.
Nelson, D. A., Hart, C. H., Yang, C., Olsen, J. A., & Jin, S. (2006). Aversive parenting in China: Associations with child physical and relational aggression. Child Development, 77(3), 554–572.
Olson, S. L., Sameroff, A. J., Kerr, D. C. R., Lopez, N. L., & Wellman, H. M. (2005). Developmental foundations of externalizing problems in young children: The role of effortful control. Development and Psychopathology, 17(1), 25–45.
Olson, S. L., Sameroff, A. J., Lunkenheimer, E. S., & Kerr, D. C. R. (2009). Self- regulatory processes in early behavioral adjustment: The preschool to school transition. In S. L. Olson & A. J. Sameroff (Eds.), Regulatory processes in the development of behavior problems: Biological, behavioral, and social-ecological interactions. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Power, T. G. (2004). Stress and coping in childhood: The parents’ role. Parenting: Science and Practice, 4, 271–317.
Raaijmakers, M. A. J., Smidts, D. P., Sergeant, J. A., Maasen, G. H., Posthumus, J. A., van Engeland, H., et al. (2008). Executive functions in preschool children with aggressive behavior: Impairments in inhibitory control. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 36, 1097–1107.
Raykov, T., Tomer, A., & Nesselraode, J. R. (1991). Reporting structural equation modeling results in psychology and aging: Some proposed guidelines. Psychology and Aging, 6, 499–503.
Rosenberg, K. L. (1997). The socialization of shame and guilt. Unpublished manuscript, George Mason University
Rothbaum, F., Kakinuma, M., Nagaoka, R., & Azuma, H. (2007). Attachment and amae. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 38, 465–486.
Sabbagh, M. A., Xu, F., Carlson, S. M., Moses, L. J., & Lee, K. (2006). The development of executive functioning and theory of mind: A comparison of Chinese and U.S. preschoolers. Psychological Science, 17(1), 74–81.
Sameroff, A. J. (2009). Dialectical processes in developmental psychopathology. In A. J. Sameroff (Ed.), Transactional processes in development. Washington: APA.
Scaramella, L. V., & Leve, L. D. (2004). Clarifying parent-child reciprocities during early childhood: The early childhood coercion model. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 7, 89–107.
Spinrad, T. L., Eisenberg, N., Harris, E., Hanish, L., Fabes, R. A., Kupanoff, K., et al. (2004). The relation of children’s everyday nonsocial peer play behavior to their emotionality, regulation, and social functioning. Developmental Psychology, 40, 67–80.
Tardif, T., Wang, L., & Olson, S. L. (2009). Culture and the development of regulatory competence: Chinese-U.S. comparisons. In S. L. Olson & A. J. Sameroff (Eds.), Regulatory processes in the development of behavior problems: Biological, behavioral, and social- ecological interactions (pp. 258–289). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Tobin, J., Hsueh, Y., & Karasawa, M. (2009). Preschool in three cultures revisited: China, Japan, and the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Trommsdorff, G., & Kornadt, H. J. (2002). Parent-child relations in cross-cultural perspective. In L. Kuczynski (Ed.), Handbook of dynamics in parent-child relations. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Valiente, C., Eisenberg, N., Spinrad, T. L., Reiser, M., Cumberland, A., Losoya, S. H., et al. (2006). Relations among mothers’ expressivity, children’s effortful control, and their problem behaviors: A four-year longitudinal study. Emotion, 6, 459–472.
Wang, L., Chen, X., Chen, H., Cui, L., & Miao, L. (2006). Affect and maternal parenting as predictors of adaptive and maladaptive behaviors in Chinese children. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 30(2), 158–166.
Wechsler, D. (1989). Preschool and primary scale of intelligence-revised. San Antonio: Psychological Corporation.
Zelazo, P. D., Muller, U., Frye, D., Marcovitch, S. (2003). The development of executive function in early childhood. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 68 (Serial No 274)
Zhou, Q., Eisenberg, N., Wang, Y., & Reiser, M. (2004). Chinese children’s effortful control and dispositional anger/frustration: Relations to parenting styles and children’s social functioning. Developmental Psychology, 40(3), 352–366.
Zhou, Q., Hofer, C., Eisenberg, N., Reiser, M., Spinrad, T., & Fabes, R. (2007). The developmental trajectories of attention focusing, attentional and behavioral persistence and externalizing problems during school-age years. Developmental Psychology, 43, 369–385.
Sheryl Olson, Twila Tardif, Adam Grabell, and Daniel Kessler, Department of Psychology and Center for Human Growth and Development, University of Michigan. Alison Miller, Department of Public Health and Center for Human Growth and Development, University of Michigan. Barbara Felt, Department of Pediatrics and Center for Human Growth and Development, University of Michigan. Li Wang, Department of Psychology, Peking University, Beijing, China; Mayumi Karasawa, and Hidemi Hirabayashi, Tokyo Woman’s Christian University, Tokyo, Japan.
This research was supported by grant #0527475 from the National Science Foundation to Twila Tardif (PI). Japanese data collection was supported by grant-in aid for scientific research (C) #17530485, (B) #20330139 from Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. We are very grateful to the children, parents, teachers, and preschool administrators who participated, and to the many individuals who gave us invaluable help with data collection and coding: Tassie Hajal, Dana Richter, Liz Kelly, Jesse Wilkinson, Cristin Brophy, Emily Youra, Juli Harrison, Midori Kazama, Yoon Lee, Akiko Hayashi, Saori Kumasaka, Yukiko Ishii, Chika Nakamura, Sachiko Ohno, Hiromi Ikeda, and Keiko Yamaguchi.
Please address correspondence concerning to the first author at the following address: Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 530 Church, Ann Arbor, MI 48109 firstname.lastname@example.org.
About this article
Cite this article
Olson, S.L., Tardif, T.Z., Miller, A. et al. Inhibitory Control and Harsh Discipline as Predictors of Externalizing Problems in Young Children: A Comparative Study of U.S., Chinese, and Japanese Preschoolers. J Abnorm Child Psychol 39, 1163 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-011-9531-5
- Inhibitory control
- Cultural processes
- Externalizing problems
- Gender differences