Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Embargo Period

3-5-2018

Degree Program

Psychology

Degree Type

Master of Science (M.S.)

Year Degree Awarded

2018

Month Degree Awarded

May

Abstract

Individuals who display high levels of reward sensitivity are motivated by and respond to reward related cues, thus exhibiting more approach-motivated behaviors. A majority of the research on physiological indices of reward sensitivity in relation to self-regulatory abilities has focused on adults or adolescents, with relatively little work examining these associations in children. Thus, the current study sought to examine whether a common neural measure of reward sensitivity, left frontal electroencephalogram (EEG) asymmetry, assessed in early childhood was predictive of children’s later self-regulation abilities in the context of reward delay. Emerging inhibitory control skills were also examined as a potential moderator of the association between reward sensitivity and self-regulation. The frontal asymmetry measure of reward sensitivity was assessed at Time 1, when children were between the ages of 4 and 7 years old. The Time 2 visit occurred 18-24 months later, at which point children completed a flanker task to assess inhibitory control and a lock-box task to measure two components of self-regulation: behavioral control (i.e., task effort and attentional focus) and emotion regulation (i.e., expressions of anger). Children with average levels of reward sensitivity showed the highest levels of overall effort (collapsed across low, moderate, and high effort scores) and the lowest levels of weak effort. Additionally, inhibitory control iv moderated the relation between reward sensitivity and effort such that children with low reward sensitivity and strong inhibitory control showed the highest levels of overall and moderate effort as well as the lowest levels of weak effort. There were no significant associations between reward sensitivity, inhibitory control, and attentional focus or anger expression. These results suggest that EEG frontal asymmetry is a useful physiological marker of reward sensitivity when predicting specific types of regulatory abilities in children.

First Advisor

Dr. Jennifer M. McDermott

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