P3b reflects maltreated children's reactions to facial displays of emotion


Address reprint requests to: Seth Pollak, Department of Psychology, 1202 West Johnson Street, University of Wisconsin at Madison, Madison, WI 53706-1696, USA. E-mail: spollak@facstaff.wisc.edu.


Processing of emotion information by maltreated and control children was assessed with event-related brain potentials (ERPs). Maltreated children, for whom negative facial displays may be especially salient, and demographically comparable peers were tested to increase knowledge of differential processing of emotion information. ERPs were measured while children responded to pictures depicting facial displays of anger, fear, and happiness. Maltreated children showed larger P3b amplitude when angry faces appeared as targets than did control children; the two groups did not differ when targets were either happy or fearful facial expressions or for nontargets of any emotional content. These results indicate that aberrant emotional experiences associated with maltreatment may alter the allocation of attention and sensitivity that children develop to process specific emotion information.