Infant Temperament Is Associated with Relative Food Reinforcement

Child Obes. 2016 Dec;12(6):411-417. doi: 10.1089/chi.2016.0001. Epub 2016 Jul 22.


Objective: Food reinforcement refers to how hard someone is motivated to work to gain access to food. Infant temperament is defined as behavioral styles, or constitutionally based individual differences in reactive and regulatory aspects of behavior. Identifying correlates of food reinforcement, such as infant temperament, may help identify infants at risk for future negative health consequences (e.g., overweight or obesity) of high food reinforcement.

Methods: This study tested aspects of parent-reported negative reactivity and regulation and their associations with relative food reinforcement in a cross-sectional sample of 105 9- to 18-month-old infants. Hierarchical linear regression models were then used to predict infant food reinforcement for the temperament dimensions that were significantly related to it.

Results: Two temperament dimensions, cuddliness (regulatory aspect) (B = -0.050, ΔR2 = 0.074, p = 0.005) and rate of recovery from distress and arousal (reactive aspect) (B = -0.040, ΔR2 = 0.045, p = 0.031), were inversely associated with relative food reinforcement.

Conclusion: Clarifying the nature of relationships between these two behavioral predictors, infant temperament and relative food reinforcement, and early obesity can elucidate the role of individual differences in early obesity risk and can further inform targets for early behavioral obesity preventive interventions.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Food Preferences / psychology*
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Male
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • New York / epidemiology
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Pediatric Obesity / epidemiology
  • Pediatric Obesity / prevention & control
  • Pediatric Obesity / psychology*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Temperament*
  • Young Adult