Joint Consideration of Inhibitory Control and Irritability in Young Children: Contributions to Emergent Psychopathology

Amanda N. Nili*, Sheila Krogh-Jespersen, Susan B. Perlman, Ryne Estabrook, Amelie Petitclerc, Margaret J. Briggs-Gowan, Phil R. Sherlock, Elizabeth S. Norton, Laurie S. Wakschlag

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Deficits in self-regulation capacity have been linked to subsequent impairment and clinical symptomology across the lifespan. Prior work has identified difficulty regulating angry emotions (i.e., irritability) as a powerful transdiagnostic indicator of current and future clinical concerns. Less is known regarding how irritability intersects with cognitive features of self-regulation, in particular inhibitory control, despite its mental health relevance. A promising avenue for improving specificity of clinical predictions in early childhood is multi-method, joint consideration of irritability and inhibitory control capacities. To advance early identification of impairment and psychopathology risk, we contrast group- and variable-based models of neurodevelopmental vulnerability at the interface of irritability and inhibitory control in contexts of varied motivational and emotional salience. This work was conducted in a longitudinal study of children recruited at well-child visits in Midwestern pediatric clinics at preschool age (N = 223, age range = 3–7 years). Group-based models (clustering and regression of clusters on clinical outcomes) indicated significant heterogeneity of self-regulation capacity in this sample. Meanwhile, variable-based models (continuous multiple regression) evidenced associations with concurrent clinical presentation, future symptoms, and impairment across the broad spectrum of psychopathology. Irritability transdiagnostically indicated internalizing and externalizing problems, concurrently and longitudinally. In contrast, inhibitory control was uniquely associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity symptoms. We present these findings to advance a joint consideration approach to two promising indicators of neurodevelopmental vulnerability and mental health risk. Models suggest that both emotional and cognitive self-regulation capacities can address challenges in characterizing the developmental unfolding of psychopathology from preschool to early childhood age.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1415-1427
Number of pages13
JournalResearch on Child and Adolescent Psychopathology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2022


  • Early childhood
  • Inhibitory control
  • Irritability
  • Self-regulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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