Date of Award

January 2012

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Medical Doctor (MD)



First Advisor

Linda C. Mayes

Subject Area(s)



Substance use during pregnancy and the postpartum period impacts not only the substance using mother, but also her infant by affecting the mother's ability to provide care during this critical time period. Current research demonstrates the neural circuitry of the reward and stress systems important in parenting overlaps with the circuitry dysregulated in addictive processes, which may compromise a mother's ability to respond appropriately to infant cues. In the initial study, parental sensitivity to infant cues was examined in substance using and non-using mothers. Participants viewed images of infant faces while simultaneous electroencephalography (EEG) recorded their neural responses. EEG data showed that the latency of the face-specific N170 event-related potential (ERP) peaked later in substance using mothers relative to non-using mothers, but no difference was observed in the earlier P1 ERP component, a marker of general visual processing. The present study investigated predictors of this differential neural response to infant faces by analyzing self-reported measures of behavioral motivation systems (Behavioral Inhibition System/Behavioral Activation System Scale), impulsivity (Barratt Impulsiveness Scale-11), and parenting stress (Parenting Stress Index-Short Form). It was hypothesized that compared to non-using mothers, substance using mothers would score higher in measures of the behavioral activation motivation system, impulsivity, and parental stress, and would score lower in measures of the behavioral inhibition motivation system, and that these scores would correlate with a later latency of the N170. Results showed that substance using mothers scored higher in measures of impulsivity, behavioral activation motivation system sensitivity, and one measure of parental stress. Results showed that a later N170 latency correlated with a higher fun-seeking score of the behavioral activation motivation system (Pearson's r = .274, p<.05), a higher score of the cognitive complexity factor of impulsivity (Pearson's r = .260, p=.06), and a higher score of parental distress (Pearson's r = .253, p=.09). Taken together, these results suggest that early visual processing of infant faces may be compromised in mothers with higher BAS fun-seeking sensitivity, higher impulsivity related to cognitive complexity, and higher parental distress. Given that these traits are more likely to be found in substance users, these results lend further suggestive evidence to the hypothesis that parenting can be compromised in addictive states due to an impairment in reward sensitivity and stress reactivity to infant cues.