Recognition of facial emotions among maltreated children with high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder

Department of Psychology, University of California, 1285 Franz Hall, Box 951563, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.
Child Abuse & Neglect (Impact Factor: 2.47). 02/2008; 32(1):139-53. DOI: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2007.09.006
Source: PubMed


The purpose of this study is to examine processing of facial emotions in a sample of maltreated children showing high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Maltreatment during childhood has been associated independently with both atypical processing of emotion and the development of PTSD. However, research has provided little evidence indicating how high rates of PTSD might relate to maltreated children's processing of emotions.
Participants' reaction time and labeling of emotions were measured using a morphed facial emotion identification task. Participants included a diverse sample of maltreated children with and without PTSD and controls ranging in age from 8 to 15 years. Maltreated children had been removed from their homes and placed in state custody following experiences of maltreatment. Diagnoses of PTSD and other disorders were determined through combination of parent, child, and teacher reports.
Maltreated children displayed faster reaction times than controls when labeling emotional facial expressions, and this result was most pronounced for fearful faces. Relative to children who were not maltreated, maltreated children both with and without PTSD showed enhanced response times when identifying fearful faces. There was no group difference in labeling of emotions when identifying different facial emotions.
Maltreated children show heightened ability to identify fearful faces, evidenced by faster reaction times relative to controls. This association between maltreatment and atypical processing of emotion is independent of PTSD diagnosis.

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    • "Child maltreatment has been empirically connected to the experience of more negative emotions, such as fear, anger, and distress (Paivio & Laurent, 2001; Pollak et al., 1998), as well as many adult psychiatric diagnoses in which negative emotion plays a prominent role, such as depression (Hill, 2006; Wise, Zierler, Krieger, & Harlow, 2001), anxiety (MacMillan et al., 2001), and posttraumatic stress disorder (Widom, 1999). Along with heightened levels of negative emotion, early maltreatment has also been shown to foster hypersensitivity to negative emotions (Curtis & Cicchetti, 2013; Luke & Banerjee, 2013; Masten et al., 2008; Pollak, Cicchetti, Hornung, & Reed, 2000; Romens & Pollak, 2012). "
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    • "For example, Kimonis , Frick, Cauffman, Goldweber, and Skeem (2012) found that male juvenile offenders with secondary-CU traits were more responsive to images involving others' emotional distress than were youth with primary-CU traits; similarly, Sink and Kerig (2011) found that youth with secondary-CU traits were more accurate than those with primary CU in recognizing selfconscious emotions such as disgust. The alternative construction that acquired CU arises as a function of trauma, however, suggests the need to attend to the parallel program of research investigating emotion recognition among traumatized youth, which indicates a heightened reactivity to negative emotions displayed by others (Leist & Dadds, 2009; Masten et al., 2008; Pollak, 2008). Therefore, further research is needed to understand emotion processing among youth who are simultaneously high in CU as well as trauma exposure. "
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    • "This finding supports previous work indicating that participants with a history of maltreatment show an increased sensitivity for negative faces (Dannlowski et al. 2012; Grant et al. 2011). Furthermore, a superior recognition of faces displaying fear and sadness (Leist and Dadds 2009) and shorter reaction times when labeling fearful facial expressions (Masten et al. 2008) was demonstrated. Prior learning plays an important role in how facial expression displays are classified into distinct emotion categories (Pollak and Kistler 2002). "
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