Motivated Attention and Reward in Parenting
Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. SYNOPSIS: Parenting has a significant and lasting impact on child development. From birth, parents must sensitively and appropriately attend to their infant’s emotional expressions and vocalizations. Accumulating evidence indicates that these infant cues of emotion attract more attention than equivalent adult cues in parents as well as non-parents. We review this evidence and suggest that infant cues hold high incentive value and elicit motivated attention (i.e., enhanced processing of motivationally relevant stimuli), which in turn promotes approach motivation and thus caregiving responses. Further, we discuss data suggesting that infant cues are salient for non-parents, with increasing motivated attention to infant cues in the transition to parenthood. This increase may depend on interactions between the dopamine reward system and the neuropeptide oxytocin. Therefore, we also explore the human and non-human data that support this association and consider potential sources of variability in motivated attention in parents.