Incentive effect on inhibitory control in adolescents with early-life stress: An antisaccade study

Sven C. Mueller, Michael G. Hardin, Katherine Korelitz, Teresa Daniele, Jessica Bemis, Mary Dozier, Elizabeth Peloso, Francoise S. Maheu, Daniel S. Pine, Monique Ernst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Early-life stress (ES) such as adoption, change of caregiver, or experience of emotional neglect may influence the way in which affected individuals respond to emotional stimuli of positive or negative valence. These modified responses may stem from a direct alteration of how emotional stimuli are coded, and/or the cognitive function implicated in emotion modulation, such as self-regulation or inhibition. These ES effects have been probed on tasks either targeting reward and inhibitory function. Findings revealed deficits in both reward processing and inhibitory control in ES youths. However, no work has yet examined whether incentives can improve automatic response or inhibitory control in ES youths. Method: To determine whether incentives would only improve self-regulated voluntary actions or generalize to automated motoric responses, participants were tested on a mixed eye movement task that included reflex-like prosaccades and voluntary controlled antisaccade eye movements. Seventeen adopted children (10 females, mean age 11.3 years) with a documented history of neglect and 29 typical healthy youths (16 females, mean age 11.9 years) performed the mixed prosaccade/antisaccade task during monetary incentive conditions or during no-incentive conditions. Results: Across both saccade types, ES adolescents responded more slowly than controls. As expected, control participants committed fewer errors on antisaccades during the monetary incentive condition relative to the no-incentive condition. By contrast, ES youths failed to show this incentive-related improvement on inhibitory control. No significant incentive effects were found with prepotent prosaccades trials in either group. Finally, co-morbid psychopathology did not modulate the findings. Conclusions: These data suggest that youths with experience of early stress exhibit deficient modulation of inhibitory control by reward processes, in tandem with a rewardindependent deficit in preparation for both automatic and controlled responses. These data may be relevant to interventions in ES youths.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)217-225
Number of pages9
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Antisaccade
  • Cognitive control
  • Early adversity
  • Reward
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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