Relations among Temperament, Familial Socioeconomic Status, and Inhibitory Control in Typically Developing Four-Year-Old Children



Since inhibitory control has been implicated in children’s ability to successfully navigate their social and academic environments, it is important to explore factors underlying its development. We examined whether attentional focusing (a temperamental factor) and socioeconomic status (a caregiving environmental factor) influenced children’s inhibitory control.


Inhibitory control was coded from an observed behavioral task (Dinky Toys) and children’s temperament and socioeconomic status were indexed via parent report in 70 (36 girls; M age = 4.40 years) typically developing 4-year-old children.


We found that children low in attentional focusing were differentially sensitive to their caregiving environment in predicting inhibitory control (p= .001): children with low attentional focusing displayed the highest and lowest levels of inhibitory control when their familial socioeconomic status was high and low, respectively. Children with high attentional focusing exhibited an average amount of inhibitory control regardless of their familial socioeconomic status (p= .20).


Findings provide support for a differential susceptibility hypothesis and suggest that plasticity in low attentional focusing may be beneficial to children in some caregiving environments. Findings also highlight the importance of considering factors internal and external to the child when exploring influences on inhibitory control.

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This work was supported by an Undergraduate Student Research Award awarded to R.H., a Lawson Foundation Post-doctoral Fellowship awarded to K.L.D., and an operating grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (RGPIN-2016-06194) awarded to L.A.S.. We wish to thank the many children and families who participated in the study. We also wish to thank Rachael Adcock, Lauren Poulin, Natalie Stearns, and Richard Xu for their assistance with recruitment, data collection, video transcription, and coding.

Author contribution

R.H. aided with data collection, conceptualized and executed the data analyses, wrote the manuscript, and handled revisions. A.S.M. aided with conducting the analyses and edited the final manuscript. K.L.D. designed and executed the study, aided with data collection, and edited the final manuscript. R.V.L. edited multiple drafts of the manuscript. L.A.S. aided in conceptualizing the manuscript, edited the final manuscript, aided with handling revisions, and provided funding, research support and resources.

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Correspondence to Raha Hassan.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. IRB approval was granted by McMaster University Research Ethics Board.

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Hassan, R., Mills, A.S., Day, K.L. et al. Relations among Temperament, Familial Socioeconomic Status, and Inhibitory Control in Typically Developing Four-Year-Old Children. J Child Fam Stud 28, 950–958 (2019).

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  • Temperament
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Attentional focusing
  • Inhibitory control
  • Differential susceptibility