The Impact of Early Institutional Rearing on the Ability to Discriminate Facial Expressions of Emotion: An Event-Related Potential Study


  • The Bucharest Early Intervention Project (BEIP) Core Group consists of Charles H. Zeanah, Anna T. Smyke, and Sebastian F. Koga (Tulane University); Charles A. Nelson and Susan W. Parker (University of Minnesota); Nathan A. Fox and Peter J. Marshall (University of Maryland); and Hermi R. Woodward (University of Pittsburgh/MacArthur Research Networks).

  • The BEIP was funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Early Experience and Brain Development (Charles A. Nelson, network chair). The authors wish to acknowledge the many invaluable contributions of their Romanian partner institutions, the SERA Romania Foundation, the Institute of Maternal and Child Health, and the Bucharest Departments of Child Protection. They are also deeply grateful to their Romanian team whose hard work and dedication have made this study possible.

concerning this article should be addressed to Charles A. Nelson, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, 51 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455. Electronic mail may be sent to


Event-related potentials (ERPs), in response to 4 facial expressions of fear, angry, happy, and sad, were collected from 72 institutionalized children (IG), ages 7 to 32 months, in Bucharest, Romania, and compared with ERPs from 33 children, ages 8 to 32 months, who had never been institutionalized (NIG). The NIG and IG exhibited different patterns of responding in early latency components. Moreover, group differences in amplitude were evident across all components. Such differences may point to the role of early deprivation in disrupting the development of the neural circuitry involved in the recognition of facial expressions.