Elevated amygdala response to faces following early deprivation

Authors


Nim Tottenham, Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, Box 951563, 2243C Franz Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1563, USA; e-mail: nlt2002@med.cornell.edu

Abstract

A functional neuroimaging study examined the long-term neural correlates of early adverse rearing conditions in humans as they relate to socio-emotional development. Previously institutionalized (PI) children and a same-aged comparison group were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while performing an Emotional Face Go/Nogo task. PI children showed heightened activity of the amygdala, a region that supports emotional learning and reactivity to emotional stimuli, and corresponding decreases in cortical regions that support perceptual and cognitive functions. Amygdala activity was associated with decreased eye-contact as measured by eye-tracking methods and during a live dyadic interaction. The association between early rearing environment and subsequent eye-contact was mediated by amygdala activity. These data support the hypothesis that early adversity alters human brain development in a way that can persist into childhood, and they offer insight into the socio-emotional disturbances in human behavior following early adversity.

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