Inhibition of misleading heuristics as a core mechanism for typical cognitive development: evidence from behavioural and brain-imaging studies

Dev Med Child Neurol. 2015 Apr;57 Suppl 2:21-5. doi: 10.1111/dmcn.12688.


Cognitive development is generally conceived as incremental with knowledge of increasing complexity acquired throughout childhood and adolescence. However, several studies have now demonstrated not only that infants possess complex cognitive abilities but also that older children, adolescents, and adults tend to make systematic errors even in simple logical reasoning tasks. Therefore, one of the main issues for any theory of typical cognitive development is to provide an explanation of why at some age and in some contexts children, adolescents, and adults do not express a knowledge or cognitive principle that they already acquired when they were younger. In this review, we present convergent behavioural and neurocognitive evidence that cognitive development is more similar to a non-linear dynamic system than to a linear, stage-like system. In this theoretical framework, errors can emerge in problems similar to the ones infants or young children were succeeding when older children, adolescents, and adults rely on a misleading heuristic rather than on the correct logical algorithm to solve such problems. And the core mechanism for overcoming these errors is inhibitory control (i.e. the ability to inhibit the misleading heuristics). Therefore, typical cognitive development relies not only on the ability to acquire knowledge of incremental complexity but also to inhibit previously acquired knowledge.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Child
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Human Development / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Problem Solving / physiology*