Response Inhibition

 


What is it?

Response Inhibition is the ability to inhibit one’s own response to distractions. Imagine two children paying close attention to a lesson, when there is a sudden noise in the hall way. One loses her attention while the other does not.

The child who maintains attention has better response inhibition, or the ability to stop or inhibit the inclination to direct attention toward the distracting stimulation. Some distracting stimuli are particularly powerful, like the yelling of other children in the playground, the bell of an ice cream truck, or the sight of their best friend walking by on the way to the bathroom. Children need the ability to inhibit their response to these distractors. ACTIVATE™ promotes response inhibition during sustained attention by requiring children to not respond to stimuli to which they had previously been required to respond.

When it’s a problem:

Ever burn your mouth on a slice of pizza? A lack of inhibitory control can go hand in hand with a lack of ability to sustain attention – but not necessarily. Without distractors, some students can focus and sustain attention at a given task for prolonged periods of time. But then, even the slightest distraction can pull their focus away from the task. For children who lack inhibitory control, every day can be a struggle to “stay on the rails”, and a learning environment that other children find engaging and dynamic can become a minefield of powerful distractors. Their actions will likely seem impulsive. They may have difficulty remembering to raise their hands before blurting out the answer to a question. You may be able to identify these students simply by seeing whose mouth is burned on pizza day in the cafeteria.

Tips:

1) Provide a quiet, stable learning environment. Students who struggle with response inhibition should have the opportunity to work in a quiet setting that allows them to remain focused and undistracted. This environment should extend beyond the classroom, to the home setting as well, as much as possible.

2) Use instructional strategies that avoid distracting surprises. These students may find the dynamics of working in groups with peers overstimulating to an extent that makes their ability to focus on content all but impossible.

3) Teach and model strategies for self-regulation. For instance, if the student has trouble inhibiting his or her anger when in a frustrating situation, consider teaching them to take three deep breaths, or counting to five, before reacting. Avoid heavy handed disciplining strategies like prolonged “time outs” that might help maintain order temporarily but fail in the long run to instill in students their own internal inhibitory skills.

4) Make sure these students thoroughly understand the directions for any given task before beginning to work.  Even small “speed bumps” these students encounter because they don’t understand a task can become a major roadblock when they get taken off-task to ask for help (or, as it may be, forget to ask for help).

5) Continue providing opportunities to interact with ACTIVATE.  ACTIVATE exercises a child’s inhibitory control by assigning discrete tasks that require them to block out distractors – and then switch their attention to the stimulus that was previously the distractor and block out the stimulus that was previously the main task.  The challenge starts off subtle and then grows in intensity in response to the student’s performance.

 

When it’s a strength:

Children with a strong ability to inhibit their response to distractions are well equipped to engage in a wide variety of complex tasks and activities. They are likely to do well when left alone to pursue independent study, and likely to stay focused when in more dynamic learning settings such as group work. Their ability to block out distractors will likely help them succeed in high-pressure situations such as athletic, dramatic, or musical performances, public speaking, or, someday, dynamic professional collaborative settings.

Tips:

1) Enrich students with opportunities to work within dynamic learning styles. These students can handle a wide range of learning processes, working in groups with peers, and expressing what they’ve learned in dramatic or oral presentations.

2) Allow a variety of learning environments. These students aren’t as likely to be distracted when given the opportunity to work in new settings, like the outdoors, library, or computer lab. Giving them these opportunities will continue to exercise their self-control and develop their abilities to manage their response to distractions.

3) Assign more complex, multifaceted student projects. Students who are skilled at response inhibition may be able to handle complex projects involving independent research, role playing, or learning games.