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Neurodevelopmental Effects of Early Deprivation in Postinstitutionalized Children


  • This project was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health to Seth Pollak (R01 MH068858) and Megan Gunnar (R01 MH068857). Support for Charles A. Nelson comes from the National Institutes of Health (NS034458; MH078829) and the Richard David Scott endowment. Infrastructure support was provided by the Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin through the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (P30-HD03352, M. Seltzer, Director). We acknowledge the research assistance and support provided by Meg Bale. We also greatly appreciate the children and their families whose participation made this research possible.

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


The neurodevelopmental sequelae of early deprivation were examined by testing (= 132) 8- and 9-year-old children who had endured prolonged versus brief institutionalized rearing or rearing in the natal family. Behavioral tasks included measures that permit inferences about underlying neural circuitry. Children raised in institutionalized settings showed neuropsychological deficits on tests of visual memory and attention, as well as visually mediated learning and inhibitory control. Yet, these children performed at developmentally appropriate levels on similar tests where auditory processing was also involved and on tests assessing executive processes such as rule acquisition and planning. These findings suggest that specific aspects of brain-behavioral circuitry may be particularly vulnerable to postnatal experience.