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Early antecedents of childhood impulsivity: The role of parent-child interaction, cognitive competence, and temperament


This prospective longitudinal investigation examined early mother-child interaction as a predictor of children's later self-control capabilities. Multimethod assessments of mother-child relationships, primarily focused on observed relationship qualities in the home, were conducted during the first 2 years and related to children's later impulse control capabilities. Child cognitive competence and temperament assessed during the 2nd year were also related to later impulsivity. Follow-up assessments of children's impulsivity were conducted at age 6 (N=79), using a variety of laboratory measures. Findings indicated that responsive, cognitively stimulating parenttoddler interactions in the 2nd year modestly predicted later measures of cognitive nonimpulsivity and ability to delay gratification. Security of mother-infant attachment predicted the same outcomes, but only for boys and not for girls. Child cognitive competence in the 2nd year also consistently predicted children's later impulse control capabilities, although this was not true for measures of child temperament. Overall, the findings support a multidimensional and developmental conceptualization of the early antecedents of childhood impulsivity.

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Correspondence to Sheryl L. Olson.

Additional information

This research was supported by NIMH grants MH28018 to J. E. Bates and MH38605 to S. L. Olson. Portions of this research were presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Baltimore, April 1987. The authors thank the families who participated, and others whose help was essential in data collection: Beth Ridge, Melinda Monroe, Jeff Harness, and Christine Maslin.

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Olson, S.L., Bates, J.E. & Bayles, K. Early antecedents of childhood impulsivity: The role of parent-child interaction, cognitive competence, and temperament. J Abnorm Child Psychol 18, 317–334 (1990). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00916568

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  • Relationship Quality
  • Laboratory Measure
  • Impulse Control
  • Longitudinal Investigation
  • Developmental Conceptualization