Conclusions

Inhibitory functions are part and parcel of the cognitive processes that generate and control behaviors designed to provide specific solutions to dealing with environmental demands. In reviewing examples of inhibitory functions, we have seen that inhibition helps create coherent experience of the world along with the flexibility and efficiency required for skilled behavior.

The ability to inhibit prepotent or reflexive atten-tional and behavioral reactions and to stop unnecessary or inappropriate behavior develops throughout childhood. These developments free us from interference by otherwise dominant tendencies. This, in turn, enables us to exercise choice and intention over our actions. It seems that such changes are achieved through the development of various brain structures such as regions of the frontal lobes, including anterior cingulate, SMA, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and FEF. In doing their jobs, these control structures may interact or cooperate with regions of orbitofrontal cortex and amygdala involved in emotional regulation and sensitivity to delayed and long-term reinforcement contingencies. Note, however, that the ability of higher cortical structures to control reflexive behaviors by inhibiting them is not the only development that takes place. In some functional domains, inhibition already being produced by lower brain structures is made accessible to the influence ofhigher levels in the system.

An example of this type of development is IOR, which appears to occur in retinal coordinates early in development when SC alone is responsible for it, but it occurs in environmental and object-based coordinates once parietal cortex becomes sufficiently mature to contribute. Here, inhibition is already produced by certain brain structures but the development of cortical mechanisms allows this inhibition to be modulated by the higher brain mechanisms.

In addition, we presented results from memory and language processing suggesting that inhibition helps focus on an object or a concept by sharpening the activated representation. Moreover, it seems that this sharpening can sometimes proceed automatically, with no involvement of attention, and can be achieved without awareness, at least in some circumstances. In other circumstances, deployment of inhibitory tuning mechanisms appears to be under the control of intentions to process a particular kind of information.

In conclusion, inhibitory processes are ubiquitous in human cognition and vary in terms of the levels at which they operate and in terms of their relationship to various mental operations carried out in order to produce behavior.

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