Vagal Tone and Children’s Delay of Gratification: Differential Sensitivity in Resource-Poor and Resource-Rich Environments

Melissa L. Sturge-Apple, Jennifer H. Suor, Patrick T. Davies, Dante Cicchetti, Michael A. Skibo, Fred A. Rogosch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations

Abstract

Children from different socioeconomic backgrounds have differing abilities to delay gratification, and impoverished children have the greatest difficulties in doing so. In the present study, we examined the role of vagal tone in predicting the ability to delay gratification in both resource-rich and resource-poor environments. We derived hypotheses from evolutionary models of children’s conditional adaptation to proximal rearing contexts. In Study 1, we tested whether elevated vagal tone was associated with shorter delay of gratification in impoverished children. In Study 2, we compared the relative role of vagal tone across two groups of children, one that had experienced greater impoverishment and one that was relatively middle-class. Results indicated that in resource-rich environments, higher vagal tone was associated with longer delay of gratification. In contrast, high vagal tone in children living in resource-poor environments was associated with reduced delay of gratification. We interpret the results with an eye to evolutionary-developmental models of the function of children’s stress-response system and adaptive behavior across varying contexts of economic risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)885-893
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological Science
Volume27
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, © The Author(s) 2016.

Keywords

  • delay of gratification
  • evolutionary psychology
  • poverty
  • stress reactions

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