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Inhibitory Control and Harsh Discipline as Predictors of Externalizing Problems in Young Children: A Comparative Study of U.S., Chinese, and Japanese Preschoolers

Abstract

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.

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Correspondence to Sheryl L. Olson.

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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 slolson@umich.edu.

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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

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Keywords

  • Inhibitory control
  • Parenting
  • Cultural processes
  • Externalizing problems
  • Preschool
  • Gender differences