What Is an Inhibitory Response?

Reviewed on 3/12/2021
An inhibitory response is a brain function that allows us to stop (or inhibit) an automatic response or action.
An inhibitory response is a brain function that allows us to stop (or inhibit) an automatic response or action.

An inhibitory response is a brain function that allows us to stop (or inhibit) an automatic response or action. In other words, it is an ability to suppress inappropriate, irrelevant, or suboptimal actions. This ability develops as we grow owing to the stimuli around us and societal cultures. This ability continues to mature through adolescence. Inhibition or inhibitory control blocks behaviors and stops inappropriate automatic reactions, changing one response for a better, thought-out response adapted to the situation. An inhibitory response is necessary for shifting, controlling impulsivity or interferences, working memory, and regulating affection or emotions. The frontal structures of the brain are the last ones to mature during development, which is why it's common to see young children have trouble controlling their behavior and managing unexpected changes or events. Children have trouble inhibiting actions. If there are no specific issues to prevent inhibition from developing naturally, it will increase and develop as we age.

  • It can be difficult for adolescents to inhibit certain behaviors or impulses in the classroom such as talking to friends or fiddling with pens. If a student is studying and they check their phone, chat with their friends, or go to the kitchen to get a study snack, their inhibition levels are lower than they might be during the moment. A successful student will be able to inhibit these actions and likely perform better academically.
  • The answer to how people stop crossing the street when a car unexpectedly comes around the corner or how they can stop themselves from grasping a hot pan falling off the stove would be an automatic impulsive response or inhibitory response.

How does an inhibitory response affect ADHD?

Poor inhibition response is one of the main problems of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD is one of the most common mental and neurodevelopment disorders affecting children. It is usually first diagnosed in childhood and often lasts into adulthood. Children with ADHD have differences in their brain development and brain activity that affect their attention, ability to sit still, and self-control. ADHD can affect children at school, at home, and in friendships. Deficient inhibition may manifest itself in three different levels:

  1. Motor level: There is poor control in motor behavior that manifests in hyperactivity. For example, when a child is in class, they may not be able to control themselves from getting up when they get bored sitting.
  2. Attention level: This manifests itself in distractibility and difficulty paying attention. For example, if a child is reading, a sound from outside distracts them.
  3. Behavioral level: This manifests itself in impulsive behavior that cannot be inhibited, for example, honking your horn when you get frustrated at the driver in front of you.

The causes of and risk factors for ADHD are unknown, but current research shows that genetics plays an important role. In addition to genetics, other possible causes and risk factors are as follows:


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How can you improve an inhibition response?

An inhibition response may be improved by neuroplasticity.

Brain plasticity, or neuroplasticity, is the ability of the brain to recover and restructure itself. This adaptive potential of the nervous system allows the brain to recover after disorders or injuries and to reduce the effects of altered structures. It deals with exercises to help recover deficits in inhibition and other cognitive functions such as our muscles; the brain and its connections need to be worked and challenged to get stronger and work better. If you frequently exercise inhibition, the brain connections and its structures will become stronger as well. A consistent and challenging cognitive stimulation is the best way to improve inhibition.

How is ADHD treated?

Good treatment plans will include close monitoring, follow-ups, and making changes, if needed, along the way.

  • In most cases, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is best treated with a combination of behavior therapy and medication. For preschool-aged children (4-5 years of age) with ADHD, behavior therapy, particularly training for parents, is recommended as the first line of treatment before medication is tried.
  • Medications can help children manage their ADHD symptoms in their everyday life and can help them control behaviors that cause difficulties with family, friends, and at school. These medications are divided into two types:
    • Stimulants: They are the best-known and most widely used ADHD medications. 70% and 80% of children with ADHD have fewer ADHD symptoms when taking these fast-acting medications. Stimulants, which contain various forms of methylphenidate and amphetamine, have a calming effect on hyperactive children with ADHD. They are believed to increase brain levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with motivation, attention, and movement.
    • Non-stimulants: These were approved for the treatment of ADHD in 2003. They do not work as quickly as stimulants, but their effect can last up to 24 hours.  Strattera (atomoxetine), Intuniv (guanfacine), and Kapvay (clonidine) are the non-stimulants that provide a useful alternative for children who do not tolerate stimulants well.

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Response inhibition and response selection: two sides of the same coin: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18201122/#

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): The Basics: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd-the-basics/index.shtml

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