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Missing 2 or more commentary questions and/or a lack of depth and detail on all of the questions ARTICLE SUMMARY
Key question addressed
by the study
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in this paper?
How does that prior
theory/ research relate
to the current study?
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you see between the
previous research
discussed and the
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theory, research and the
proposed study and
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Include age, sex,
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and how they were
Measures / Materials
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were presented / what
surveys were
administered /
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the data
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participants were run
through the study
Primary Analysis
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the result means
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question(s) the study set out
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Article Commentary
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or educational implications of
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provide a rationale for your
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your research proposal?
Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 116 (2013) 59–67
Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect
Journal of Experimental Child
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/jecp
Brief Report
Outcomes of parental investment in high-risk
Daphne Blunt Bugental ?, Randy Corpuz, Rachel Samec
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA
a r t i c l e
i n f o
Article history:
Received 2 August 2012
Revised 3 January 2013
Available online 7 March 2013
Parental investment
Preterm infants
High-risk infants
Negativity bias
Protective care
Environmental reactivity
a b s t r a c t
This study assesses the combined effects of children’s early medical
risk (e.g., preterm status) and parental investment levels (time
spent in provision of care to target children as opposed to other
family members) on children’s response to novel, potentially distressing stimuli. While engaged in play activities, children were
exposed to stimuli that were either neutral (a speaker on television
with a calm voice) or threatening (a speaker with an angry voice). A
signi?cant interaction between children’s risk status and parental
investment was found only for threatening stimuli. High-risk children with high-investing parents showed high visual engagement
with potentially threatening responses, whereas high-risk children
with low-investing parents were more likely to show visual avoidance. No comparable effects were found for low-risk children. Findings were interpreted as showing that high-risk children with a
history of high parental investment are more likely to attend to
potentially threatening events, an adaptive response in the presence of reliable support.
Ó 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Paradoxically, children born at medical risk have been the recipients of exceptionally low parental
care (e.g., abuse, neglect) or exceptionally high parental care (Bugental, Beaulieu, & Corpuz, 2012). Low
parental care is more common when parental resources are scarce. In contrast, when resources are
abundant, parents invest preferentially in high-risk children. However, we know less about the ways
in which at-risk children respond to their environment as a result of the level of parental investment
they have experienced. This study assesses the combined effects of child risk history and parental
? Corresponding author.
E-mail address: bugental@psych.ucsb.edu (D.B. Bugental).
0022-0965/$ – see front matter Ó 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
D.B. Bugental et al. / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 116 (2013) 59–67
investment on young children’s responses to a novel, potentially threatening stimulus versus a neutral
Parental investment
According to Trivers (1972), parental investment is any investment by the parent in an individual
offspring that increases the offspring’s chance of survival (and reproductive potential) at the cost of
the parent’s ability to invest in other offspring. Natural selection has produced motivational mechanisms for parents to provide conditional care for their children based on the probability that they will
eventually produce healthy progeny of their own. Parental investment can be in the form of material,
temporal, social, or emotional support.
Differential parental investment, or the manner in which parents discriminatively distribute resources to offspring, can arise in various circumstances. For example, biological similarity has been
known to affect levels of investment, where biological children are given more care than stepchildren
(e.g., Anderson, Kaplan, & Lancaster, 1999). For biological offspring, the resources of the parent and the
‘‘value’’ of offspring (i.e., children’s likelihood of growing up to have healthy children of their own) can
be central factors in discriminative investment (e.g., Daly & Wilson, 1984; Daly, 1988). Supporting
these predictions, Daly and Wilson (1984) and Daly (1988) demonstrated that (a) children with low
reproductive potential are more likely to be abused or neglected and are at greater at risk for infanticide and that (b) parents with low resources are more likely to abuse, neglect, or abandon their children. These selective investment patterns can easily be seen as serving the reproductive interests of
parents by facilitating the positive outcomes of biologically related offspring, thereby maximizing
the number of possible descendants.
Later on, other researchers (Bugental & Beaulieu, 2003; Davis & Todd, 1999) proposed that parental
investment follows a contingent pattern. This model contrasts with the view of investment as additive
in nature. For example, under some circumstances, high-risk offspring may be favored. Davis and Todd
(1999) studied resource allocation to offspring in the animal kingdom, speci?cally in birds. The study
demonstrated that, when faced with limited resources, mother birds bene?t (in terms of ultimate
brood weight) by preferentially feeding the largest chick ?rst; in contrast, when faced with abundant
resources, mother birds bene?t by preferentially feeding a smaller chick ?rst. Research has also been
conducted with non-humans to determine the response of the young to different levels of parental
investment. For example, Coplan Coplan, Smith, Altemus, Scharf, Owens, Gorman et al. (2001) experimentally altered the availability of food for primate mothers (thereby altering their ability to provide
for their young). Offspring raised with a less reliable pattern of feeding showed higher levels of stress
hormones that continued into adulthood, indicating the lasting effects of parental investment
Bugental and colleagues (Bugental & Beaulieu, 2003; Bugental et al., 2012) have proposed that parents show a process of investment that is contingent on the interactive effects of (a) their access to
resources and (b) the cues to health provided by children. Supporting this prediction, Bugental, Beaulieu, and Silbert-Geiger (2010) observed that peak levels of investment were shown by mothers of
high-risk children whose mothers participated in an early intervention that provided them with cognitive resources (i.e., the enhanced ability to manage caregiving challenges). Differential parental
investment, in turn, in?uenced children’s later health. Bugental and Happaney (2004) found that children’s risk status at birth predicted later child maltreatment, but to a greater extent among mothers
who believed that they lacked power as caregivers (i.e., who lacked perceived resources).
Characteristics and outcomes of at-risk children
In this study, we focused on premature birth as an example of how a child’s early history in?uences
his or her later outcomes. The primary emphasis of past work has been on the extent to which preterm
status predicts an increased risk for later health problems and cognitive de?cits, including learning
problems (Anderson & Doyle, 2003), language delays (Ross, Lipper, & Auld, 1985), and working memory de?cits (Beauchamp et al., 2008).
D.B. Bugental et al. / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 116 (2013) 59–67
Other research has focused on the exceptional reactivity of preterm children to their environment.
For example, preterm children show greater eye opening in response to infant-directed speech and express more distress when tactilely stimulated (Eckerman, Oehler, Medvin, & Hannan, 1994). Preterm
infants have also been found to show greater sensitivity to pain in both clinical and laboratory investigations than do full-term infants (Anand, 1998). Critical to our predictions, preterm children are also
more sensitive to their caregiving environment. For example, preterm children paired with mothers
who score high on depression exhibit higher cortisol levels than preterm children paired with mothers
who score low on depression; in contrast, full-term children exhibit no such difference in response to
maternal depression (Bugental, Beaulieu, & Schwartz, 2008). These ?ndings are consistent with the
more general ?nding (as reviewed by Boyce & Ellis, 2005) that highly reactive children show worse
outcomes (e.g., poorer health) than less reactive children under conditions of adversity but show better outcomes than less reactive children under conditions of support.
Similar processes have also been observed among non-humans. Suomi (1987) assessed the combined effects of parental investment and the reactivity patterns shown by Rhesus macaque infants. Infants were bred to be either low or high in reactivity. For the low-reactivity group, caregiving made no
difference in their outcomes, but for the highly reactive infants, the caregiving environment made a
signi?cant difference. Among highly reactive infants, high levels of maternal investment produced
the most competent adults in the dominance hierarchy, whereas low levels of investment produced
the least competent adults. Thus, there is evidence across species that infants who show high reactivity are affected in both positive and negative ways by their caregiving environment.
The focus on early reactivity of the young to their environment formed the basis for the biological
sensitivity to context theory introduced by Boyce and Ellis (2005) and Ellis, Essex, and Boyce (2005).
An early study in this line of work (Boyce et al., 2005) revealed the unexpected and key ?nding that
highly responsive children not only showed very poor outcomes (very high illness) when exposed to
high adversity child care settings but also showed very good outcomes (exceptionally low levels of illness, even lower than those shown by low-responsive children in comparable settings) when exposed
to supportive child care settings. This approach was developed further through the adaptive calibration model of Ellis and colleagues (e.g., Del Guidice, Ellis, & Shirtcliff, 2011), a model that draws on life
history theory to demonstrate the adaptive value of children demonstrating responses that are optimal (for their reproductive success) within their existing environment. From this perspective, highly
reactive children have an advantage in terms of their high level of calibration to prompts in their early
environment that provide cues to the environment they are likely to face across the course of development. We borrow from this theoretical approach in considering the ways in which very young children (who differ in reactivity) calibrate their responses to the cues provided by the investment
patterns shown by their parents.
The current study
In the current study, we tested the extent to which children’s preterm status predicts their level of
attention to a novel, potentially threatening stimulus, as moderated by the investment patterns shown
by their parents. Fear-inducing ?lm clips (employed here) have been established to be useful stimuli
when studying children’s reactivity to threat (Gilissen, Bakermans-Kranenburg, van Ijzendoorn, & van
der Veer, 2008). Visual engagement provides a useful way of measuring exploratory responses shown
to novel, potentially threatening events. For example, high visual engagement of children with visual
sources of threat have been found to be associated with relatively high perceived social control in their
environment (Cortez & Bugental, 1994). Low visual engagement of children with sources of threat
have been found to be associated with a history of parental maltreatment (Pine et al., 2005). This
mechanism allows the preliminary exploration of the environment (e.g., visual engagement) along
with effective calibration of physiological, cognitive, and behavioral responses to events that pose a
potential challenge or threat (Cacioppo & Berntson, 1999; Del Guidice et al., 2011).
We predicted that the differential responses shown to negative events as a result of children’s
parental investment history are more extreme for high-risk (typically highly reactive) children than
for low-risk children. Although we were not speci?cally concerned with children who were selected
to be high or low in responsiveness, we focused on a grouping of children with a history (preterm sta-
D.B. Bugental et al. / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 116 (2013) 59–67
tus) that is known to be associated with high reactivity to the social environment. For this grouping of
children, exceptionally high attention to potentially threatening events may be more likely when combined with the reliable positive support these children have experienced with high-investing parents.
However, high reactivity to potentially threatening events may be less likely among high-risk children
who have experienced a history of low-investment parenting. Low-risk children (who are less vulnerable to the effects of their environment) were not expected to differ in their response to angry, potentially threatening stimuli as a result of their parental investment history. The predicted pattern for the
differential responses shown to threatening stimuli by high-risk versus low-risk children—who differed in their investment history—is shown in Fig. 1. Preterm (high-risk) children were predicted to
visually approach potentially threatening stimuli if they had a history of high parental investment
but to avoid these stimuli if they had a history of low parental investment. Full-term (less reactive)
children were expected to be less in?uenced by their history of parental investment. This prediction
is consistent with biological sensitivity to context theory.
Participants were recruited in one of two ways: an electronic advertisement posted on Craigslist
seeking families with children 3 to 5 years of age and distribution of the advertisement to local preschools. Participants were compensated for the time they spent in the study. Parents each received
$45 for their time and transportation costs, and children received a $5 gift card. The full sample consisted of 71 child participants, 42% of whom were male (n = 30) and 58% of whom were female
(n = 41). Participants ranged in age from 3 to 5 years (M = 4.26, SD = 0.88). Participants indicated their
ethnicity as follows: 51% as Caucasian (n = 36), 20% as Hispanic (n = 14), 13% as Asian/Asian American
(n = 9), 4% as African American (n = 3), 3% as Native American (n = 2), and 10% as mixed (n = 7). Of child
Fig. 1. Predicted pattern of glances shown to angry stimuli by high-risk versus low-risk children who have a history of high
versus low parental investment.
D.B. Bugental et al. / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 116 (2013) 59–67
participants, 42% were identi?ed as high risk (n = 30) and 58% were identi?ed as low risk (n = 41). The
most common basis of identi?cation of children as high risk was preterm status (n = 10).
Seven mothers were excluded on the basis of their age and parity (primiparous mothers who were
over 35 years of age when their children were born). Older mothers have a reduced chance of bearing
any other children and so serve their own reproductive interests best by high investment of their offspring regardless of the children’s risk level. This pattern was con?rmed in research on the investment
patterns shown in high-risk versus low-risk children by older (as opposed to younger) mothers; that
is, they were just as likely to invest in high-risk and low-risk infants (Bugental et al., 2008).
Study design
The study involved an experimental between-participants design. Children were randomly assigned to be exposed to either an angry media clip representing a potential threat or a calm media clip
as the comparison condition. The comparison condition was included to demonstrate the speci?city of
the responses shown to an angry stimulus; however, it could not be interpreted as a positive stimulus
(commentators who demonstrated angry vocal affect were not found to demonstrate speci?cally positive affect in their intonation pattern). The key dependent variable was the number of times children
looked away from playing with toys to watch or glance at the media clip (M = 4.23, SD = 4.51,
range = 0–17).
Questionnaires given to parents included demographic questions, questions about the child’s birth
history, and questions about the parent’s investment patterns. Investment levels were determined by
asking the parent about the amount of time typically spent with the child—as well as time spent with
oneself, one’s spouse, and/or other children—in the provision of care. Level of investment was computed as the proportion of total time devoted to care of the target child (i.e., the preschool child
who came to campus with his or her parents) relative to the total time spent in the provision of care
for oneself or others (M = .48, SD = .20, range = .00–.80). The older mothers who were excluded from
the analysis, as anticipated, demonstrated higher levels of investment (M = .81, SD = .11) than did
the mothers who were retained in the study (M = .53, SD = .22).
The child’s risk status was determined by his or her birth history. Selection categories for high risk
included preterm status (
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