Currey Ingram Blog

What does pizza have to do with inhibitory control?

Posted by Eric Vinson, Assistant Lower School Division Head on May 22, 2019 6:18:19 PM

For the sake of full disclosure, I’m also going to share with you what is potentially my greatest weakness. What amplifies this weakness even more is the fact that it is also one of the things in life that brings me the most excitement and enjoyment. My greatest weakness (and my all-time favorite food) is pizza. Pizza does no wrong in my world. I could literally walk away from a five-course meal feeling full and completely satisfied, stumble upon a pizza or be offered a slice, and wholeheartedly accept (and eat) it with pure joy. I simply have no control over myself in the presence of pizza.

One of the initiatives across the Currey Ingram Academy campus involves developing executive function (EF) skills in faculty, staff and students. Executive function is a broad term that encompasses skills needed for successful functioning at school and in everyday life. EF involves higher-order processes that contribute to the organization of information and execution of actions. EF skills are responsible for a variety of behaviors, including (Hannah, 2018):

  • Attention
  • Organization
  • Goal setting
  • Task initiation and completion
  • Emotional regulation
  • Perspective taking

One element of EF relates to what is called inhibitory control. This definition (Diamond, 2013) provides a well-rounded description: “Inhibitory control involves being able to control one’s attention, behavior, thoughts, and/or emotions to override a strong internal predisposition or external lure, and instead do what’s more appropriate or needed,” (pg. 137). So, to use myself as an example, my inhibitory control is practically nonexistent when it comes to such a cheesy external lure like pizza.

I would venture to say that all of us, adults and students alike, find inhibitory control challenging from time to time. Though I’ve used a food reference to illustrate this, the range of difficulties that have been linked to inhibitory control (specifically in children) include the following:

  • Thinking about consequences before reacting to a situation
  • Ability to control aggressive behaviors or verbal outbursts
  • Understanding the thoughts, feelings and intentions of others
  • Resolving conflicts with peers/adults
  • Letting go of frustration
  • Accepting mistakes
  • Ignoring negative stimuli while continuing with the present task

For me, the question then becomes, “How do we best support our students who may be struggling with inhibitory control within the school environment?” If you were to peruse some of the most recent research regarding interventions that promote inhibitory control development, you would discover some very good news. Many of the proven methods are (and historically have been) integrated into the Currey Ingram school experience, and in our ADHD Summer Treatment Program, such as:

  • A clear classroom structure
  • Predictability and routine
  • Necessary visual cues
  • Established behavioral expectations and boundaries
  • Teaching techniques that promote calm
  • Sensory-sensitive environments
  • Immediate, specific, and concise feedback
  • Intentional and ongoing instruction in social/emotional competence

At Currey Ingram, our goal is to keep adding elements to the above list, all while fostering an awareness and better understanding of how executive function contributes mightily to a student’s success within both school and home settings. And along this journey, if you discover any tricks to help me at least occasionally resist a slice of pizza, I do hope you’ll let me know.

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Sources:

  • Diamond, A. (2013). Executive Functions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 135–168.
  • Infinite Possibilities - Padmaja Sarathy. (2013). Strengthening executive function in the early years [Presentation slides]. Retrieved from AbleNet University Webinar
  • Hannah, J. (2018). Understanding Executive Function. Currey Ingram Professional Development, Brentwood, TN.
Learn More: ADHD Summer Treatment Program

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