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Self-Reported and Observed Punitive Parenting Prospectively Predicts Increased Error-Related Brain Activity in Six-Year-Old Children

An Erratum to this article was published on 07 April 2015

Abstract

The error-related negativity (ERN) is a negative deflection in the event-related potential (ERP) occurring approximately 50 ms after error commission at fronto-central electrode sites and is thought to reflect the activation of a generic error monitoring system. Several studies have reported an increased ERN in clinically anxious children, and suggest that anxious children are more sensitive to error commission—although the mechanisms underlying this association are not clear. We have previously found that punishing errors results in a larger ERN, an effect that persists after punishment ends. It is possible that learning-related experiences that impact sensitivity to errors may lead to an increased ERN. In particular, punitive parenting might sensitize children to errors and increase their ERN. We tested this possibility in the current study by prospectively examining the relationship between parenting style during early childhood and children’s ERN approximately 3 years later. Initially, 295 parents and children (approximately 3 years old) participated in a structured observational measure of parenting behavior, and parents completed a self-report measure of parenting style. At a follow-up assessment approximately 3 years later, the ERN was elicited during a Go/No-Go task, and diagnostic interviews were completed with parents to assess child psychopathology. Results suggested that both observational measures of hostile parenting and self-report measures of authoritarian parenting style uniquely predicted a larger ERN in children 3 years later. We previously reported that children in this sample with anxiety disorders were characterized by an increased ERN. A mediation analysis indicated that ERN magnitude mediated the relationship between harsh parenting and child anxiety disorder. Results suggest that parenting may shape children’s error processing through environmental conditioning and thereby risk for anxiety, although future work is needed to confirm this hypothesis.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. These 87 children did not differ from the rest of the sample in age, race, or any of the parenting measures, all ps > 0.20.

  2. Behavioral data for this sample has been previously reported (Meyer et al. 2013a; Torpey et al. 2011; Torpey et al. 2013). In the current sample, reaction time during correct trials, M = 625.67, SD = 73.63, was significantly slower than during error trials, M = 505.23, SD = 87.69, F(1, 268) = 992.23, p < 0.001. On average, children committed 15.89 errors, SD = 7.30, and made 212.14, SD = 15.39, correct responses. Neither reaction times during error or correct trials or accuracy was related to any of the parenting variables (observed or self-reported) in the current study, all ps > 0.10.

  3. The reduction in significance between the ΔERN and authoritarianism in the regression (compared to the bivariate correlation) was due to including observed parenting in the model, not due to including the other PDSQ factors. In a model including age and all PDSQ factors predicting ΔERN, authoritarianism was related to the ΔERN, p < 0.05.

  4. When child fear (measured observationally at Age 3), parental education, the Hollingshead Four-Factor Index of Socioeconomic Status, and maternal lifetime history of anxiety, substance abuse, or depression are added as covariates to the simultaneous regression, the pattern of results is not altered (authoritarian parenting and hostility are associated with an increased ERN in children).

  5. In the previous study on a subset of 48 of these participants (Meyer et al. 2013b), the ERN was maximal at Cz and scored at this site. However, in the current larger sample, the ERN was maximal at Fz. Regardless of whether the ERN is measured at Cz or Fz, in either sample, children with anxiety disorders are characterized by an increased ΔERN.

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Meyer, A., Proudfit, G.H., Bufferd, S.J. et al. Self-Reported and Observed Punitive Parenting Prospectively Predicts Increased Error-Related Brain Activity in Six-Year-Old Children. J Abnorm Child Psychol 43, 821–829 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-014-9918-1

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Keywords

  • Error-related negativity
  • ERN
  • Parenting
  • Children
  • Development
  • Response monitoring
  • Anxiety