Children’s Reward and Punishment Sensitivity Moderates the Association of Negative and Positive Parenting Behaviors in Child ADHD Symptoms

Abstract

Atypical reward processing, including abnormal reward responsivity and sensitivity to punishment, has long been implicated in the etiology of ADHD. However, little is known about how these facets of behavior interact with positive (e.g., warmth, praise) and negative (e.g., hostility, harsh discipline) parenting behavior in the early expression of ADHD symptoms in young children. Understanding the interplay between children’s reward processing and parenting may be crucial for identifying specific treatment targets in psychosocial interventions for ADHD, especially given that not all children benefit from contingency-based treatments (e.g., parent management training). The study consisted of a sample of kindergarten children (N = 201, 55% male) and their parents, who completed questionnaires about their parenting practices, their child’s behaviors and participated in an observed parent-child play task in the laboratory. Children’s reward responsivity and sensitivity to punishment were positively associated with child ADHD symptoms. However, children with high reward responsivity had more symptoms of ADHD but only under conditions of low negative parenting (self-reported and observed) and high self-reported positive parenting, compared to children with low reward responsivity. Children with high sensitivity to punishment had more ADHD symptoms relative to children with low sensitivity to punishment, but only under conditions in which observed praise was infrequent. Results provide evidence that individual differences in sensitivity to reward/punishment may be an important of marker of risk for ADHD, but also highlights how children’s responses to positive and negative parenting behavior may vary by children’s sensitivities. Clinical and treatment implications are discussed.

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Notes

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    Analyses were also conducted using the full 18 item subscale for sensitivity to reward. Results were largely consistent with current analyses. Results available upon request.

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Acknowledgements

The author was supported in part by a core grant to the Waisman Center from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (U54HD090256) and from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. The author expresses deep gratitude to all the families that participated in the study, and to Emily Hilton and Sara Jeglum who assisted with analyses and proofreading the manuscript.

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Li, J.J. Children’s Reward and Punishment Sensitivity Moderates the Association of Negative and Positive Parenting Behaviors in Child ADHD Symptoms. J Abnorm Child Psychol 46, 1585–1598 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-018-0421-y

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Keywords

  • ADHD
  • Reward processing
  • Parenting
  • Parent-child relationships