Sensitive caregiving and reward responsivity: A novel mechanism linking parenting and executive functions development in early childhood

Denise M. Werchan, Seulki Ku, Daniel Berry, Clancy Blair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Sensitive caregiving is an essential aspect of positive parenting that influences executive functions development, but the mechanisms underlying this association are less clear. Using data from the Family Life Project, a large prospective longitudinal sample of 1292 families residing in rural, predominately low-income communities, the current study examined whether sensitive caregiving impacts executive functions development by shaping behavioral reward processing systems in early postnatal life. Results indicated that higher levels of sensitive caregiving during infancy were associated with heightened reward responsivity at age 4, which in turn predicted superior executive functions ability at age 5. Notably, children's reward responsivity partially mediated the relationship between sensitive caregiving in infancy and executive functions ability at school entry. These findings add to prior work on early experience and children's executive functions and highlight caregiver scaffolding of developing reward processing systems as a potential foundational mechanism for supporting adaptive behavior and self-regulation across the lifespan.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalDevelopmental science
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2022

Keywords

  • caregiver responsiveness
  • executive functions development
  • parenting
  • reward sensitivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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