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Parental rearing behavior prospectively predicts adolescents’ risky decision-making and feedback-related electrical brain activity

Euser, A. S., Evans, B. E., Greaves-Lord, K., Huizink, A. C. and Franken, I. H.A. (2013), Parental rearing behavior prospectively predicts adolescents’ risky decision-making and feedback-related electrical brain activity. Developmental Science, 16: 409–427. doi: 10.1111/desc.12026

Hypotheses: Less optimal parenting would predict blunted neural correlates of feedback processing (i.e., reduced feedback related P300 amplitudes).  Risky decision making during BART would be associated with less involvement in risk behaviors in real life (i.e., substance use).  Enhanced sensitivity to winning (i.e., larger P300 win) would predict the degree of risk taking during BART.

Design:  Prospective experimental

Variables Measured, Instruments Used

  1. Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART) to measure risk taking behaviors. 
  2. Egna Minnen Betraffende Uppfostran, a Swedish acronym for “My Memories of Upbringing” (EMBU-C) to measure perceived parental rearing behavior.
  3.  Feedback processing (P300 amplitude in response to positive and negative feedback) using 34 active electrodes mounted on an elastic cap used while the adolescent performed the BART.  Self-Reported Substance Use Questionnaire (SUQ; Evans, Greaves-Lord, Euser, Franken & Huiznk, 2012).  


  • N= 110 healthy adolescent participants
  • Participant ages: 12-20 years of age (at T-2).  The mean age at Time-1 (T-1) was 11.81 years of age (SD 3.24).  Adolescents in the 12-20 year old age group was then selected at Time-2 (3.5 years later).  The mean age at T-2 was 15.26 years of age (SD 2.17)
  • Location: Holland
  • Eligibility: Participation in a large, general population study randomly drawn from 35 representative municipalities in the Dutch province of South Holland.  A sub-sample was selected for use in the current study.
  • SES:  Participants were from both rural and urban settings, those of higher SES were more likely to participate
  • Additional profile: Parental rearing behavior and demographic variables (DOB, gender, SES, and parental substance abuse) were assessed at T-1.  Outcome variables (risky decision making, feedback processing, and substance use behavior) and impulsiveness, internalizing and externalizing symptoms were measured at T-2.   


  1. The current study only used adolescent perceptions of parental rearing behaviors, which would have been more inclusive if parental reports had also been used. 
  2. Focuses on parental influence whereas family influence, including siblings and other family members, may be helpful in future studies.  Relatedly, peer relationships as environmental factors may also play a mediating role. 
  3. The time interval of only 3.5 years may not have been adequate to determine the outcome of risk taking behaviors (i.e., substance use). 
  4. The current sample was of healthy individuals, this model may not be replicated in a high risk population.


  1. Parental rejection accounted for a significant proportion of the variance in risk taking during the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART), the more adolescents perceived their parents as rejecting; the more risky decisions were made. 
  2. Higher levels of perceived emotional warmth predicted increased P300 amplitudes in response to positive feedback at T-2. Higher levels of perceived parental rejection seemed to marginally increase P300 amplitudes in response to negative feedback at T-2.  
  3. Adolescents who perceived their parents as emotionally warm were more responsive to positive feedback.  Those who perceived their parents as rejecting were more responsive to negative feedback.  Adolescents primed to positive feedback (perceiving warmth in parenting) would make more risky decision during the BART when positive feedback was introduced. 
  4. There was not enough data available to determine associations between perceived parental rearing behaviors, risk taking, and substance use.
  5.  Parental rearing behaviors during childhood seem to be significant predictors of both behavioral and electrophysiological indices of risky decision making in adolescence several years later.