A neurocognitive perspective on parenting support: Exploring the role of neural face processing and inhibitory control

Laura Kolijn

Research output: PhD ThesisPhD-Thesis - Research and graduation internal

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Summary Neural face processing Our mediation hypothesis that intervention effects on maternal sensitivity would be induced by changes in neural face processing was not supported. Although we found more efficient neural face processing after the intervention (Chapter 3), that change did not promote maternal sensitivity as VIPP-SD effects on a behavioral level were absent in our study (Chapter 4). These findings ask for careful reflection. Our findings showed a significant decrease in N170 amplitudes, a component reflecting the relatively early stage of encoding and processing faces in the intervention group compared to the control group. This finding indicated that the intervention resulted in less effortful, more efficient neural face processing. Although stronger N170 amplitudes have been related to more extensive information processing, reductions in neural activity during information processing may reflect neural efficiency. To illustrate, inverted faces elicit stronger N170 responses, which reflects the additional neural effort required to process this type of faces. Less effortful information processing, due to practice for instance, has been associated with a reduction in neural effort required to processes information. In the context of the VIPP-SD program, the intervention themes related to maternal sensitivity focus on accurate perception and interpretation of children’s displays of emotions, for which faces are a central communication channel. As such, training mothers’ observational skills might have improved their ability to scan their children’s faces for emotional cues and reduced the neural effort needed to process child faces. This interpretation would be consistent with the reduced N170 amplitudes that we observed. However, the results of the mediation analyses presented in Chapter 4 showed that the VIPP-SD program did not significantly enhance observed maternal sensitivity in our sample, and neural face processing was not involved as mediator. A possible explanation for this pattern of results might be found in the time-window between assessments. On average, there was a three-week period between our EEG measure and the maternal sensitivity assessments. That was perhaps too short for neural effects to translate into observable changes in maternal sensitivity. Inhibitory control We did not obtain evidence for our mediation hypothesis that intervention effects on sensitive discipline would be induced through improved inhibitory control. We found an intervention effect on inhibitory control, however opposite to our expectations, as inhibitory control improved in the control group whereas the intervention group did not significantly change over time. This finding could indicate a ‘normative’ time/practice-related improvement in the control group, something that is typically observed when participants perform the stop signal task more than once. Speculatively, that this normative improvement was interrupted in the intervention group, possibly due to VIPP-SD induced restructuring of parenting schemas. That is, the sensitive discipline themes of the intervention confront mothers with their own and their children’s behavior, which appeals to reinterpretation and reevaluation of the mothers’ behavioral repertoire. Restructuring parenting schemas requires cognitive effort. Such complex cognitive changes may have come at the cost of other cognitive operations, such as inhibitory control, that we observed at the time of our assessment. The mediation analysis showed that inhibitory control was unrelated to sensitive discipline and there was no evidence for the expected increase in observed sensitive discipline in the intervention group. Again, the time-window between assessments might explain the results. If the intervention indeed triggered reorganization of previously established parenting schemas, consolidation into stable updated parenting schemas that are accessible during the assessment of disciplining might take more time than the lag between our assessments. We speculate that parenting schemas of discipline strategies might have been ‘under reconstruction’ during our assessment of sensitive discipline, which could have diminished positive effects on a behavioral level.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Bakermans, Marian, Supervisor
  • van den Bulk, Bianca, Co-supervisor, External person
  • Huffmeijer, Rens, Co-supervisor, External person
Award date15 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2021


  • Parenting
  • Neural face processing
  • Inhibitory control
  • Cognitive control
  • Neurobiology
  • Intervention
  • Attachment


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