Early Adverse Experiences and the Neurobiology of Facial Emotion Processing

Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MA, USA.
Developmental Psychology (Impact Factor: 3.21). 02/2009; 45(1):17-30. DOI: 10.1037/a0014035
Source: PubMed


To examine the neurobiological consequences of early institutionalization, the authors recorded event-related potentials (ERPs) from 3 groups of Romanian children--currently institutionalized, previously institutionalized but randomly assigned to foster care, and family-reared children--in response to pictures of happy, angry, fearful, and sad facial expressions of emotion. At 3 assessments (baseline, 30 months, and 42 months), institutionalized children showed markedly smaller amplitudes and longer latencies for the occipital components P1, N170, and P400 compared to family-reared children. By 42 months, ERP amplitudes and latencies of children placed in foster care were intermediate between the institutionalized and family-reared children, suggesting that foster care may be partially effective in ameliorating adverse neural changes caused by institutionalization. The age at which children were placed into foster care was unrelated to their ERP outcomes at 42 months. Facial emotion processing was similar in all 3 groups of children; specifically, fearful faces elicited larger amplitude and longer latency responses than happy faces for the frontocentral components P250 and Nc. These results have important implications for understanding of the role that experience plays in shaping the developing brain.

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    • "Briefly, these children's experience with faces (among other aspects of their life, visual and otherwise) was very limited as a result of the conditions they were raised in, and in childhood they exhibit globally reduced electrophysiological responses to face stimuli (Moulson et al., 2009a). However, their differential responses to faces that differed by emotion (Moulson et al., 2009b) and by familiarity (personally familiar faces compared to strangers) were not different from observers with richer experience. Obviously, there are crucial differences between these children and our small-town participants, but nonetheless the fact that these children exhibited neural sensitivity to different kinds of faces leads to two important questions: would our participants also show typical differential responses to faces as a function of emotion or familiarity? "
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    ABSTRACT: Face recognition depends on visual experience in a number of different ways. Infrequent exposure to faces belonging to categories defined by species, age, or race can lead to diminished memory for and discrimination between members of those categories relative to faces belonging to categories that dominate an observer's environment. Early visual impairment can also have long-lasting and broad effects on face discrimination - just a few months of visual impairment due to congenital cataracts can lead to diminished discrimination between faces that differ in their configuration, for example (Le Grand et al., 2001). Presently, we consider a novel aspect of visual experience that may impact face recognition: The approximate amount of different faces observers encountered during their childhood. We recruited undergraduate observers from small (500-1000 individuals) and large communities (30,000-100,000 individuals) and asked them to complete a standard face memory test and a basic ERP paradigm designed to elicit a robust N170 response, including the classic face inversion effect. We predicted that growing up in a small community might lead to diminished face memory and an N170 response that was less specific to faces. These predictions were confirmed, suggesting that the sheer number of faces one can interact with during their upbringing shapes their behavioral abilities and the functional architecture of face processing in the brain. Copyright © 2015. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
    Full-text · Article · Feb 2015 · Neuropsychologia
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    • "Of these, most have utilised data from the Bucharest Early Intervention Project (Zeanah et al., 2003). These results show that placing previously institutionalised Romanian children into foster care positively impacts biological and psychological outcomes (Ghera et al., 2009; Moulson et al., 2009; Nelson et al., 2007); improves developmental trajectories, including recovery from psychopathology towards adaptive behaviours (Zeanah et al., 2009); and improves sensory capacities while reducing self-stimulating behaviour and emotional and behavioural problems (Groza et al., 2003). The Groza et al. (2003) and Zeanah et al. (2009) studies were conducted during Romania's de-institutionalisation period (2001–04) when children's institutions were closed, rehabilitated or replaced with alternative services (e.g. "
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    ABSTRACT: This study compared the behaviours of previously institutionalised Romanian foster children(ages 6–12) with normative data for non-referred children. We hypothesised that foster children would have higher scores (more unfavourable outcomes) on the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) and Teacher Report Form (TRF) (all syndromes) than norms. Results were mixed, showing that (a) boys and girls have Attention Problems with the TRF, but not the CBCL; (b) girls have fewer Internalising Problems than norms (CBCL and TRF); and (c) boys have more problems than norms for Attention, Inattention, Hyperactivity, Aggressive, Externalising, and Total Problems with the TRF; and more problems than norms on Social, Rule-Breaking, Externalising, and Total Problems with the CBCL, but fewer problems for Attention. In addition, many differences between Romanian foster children and norms were insignificant. Sampling issues and norms, reporting differences between foster parents and teachers, individual differences, as well as the better than expected results for foster children when compared to norms may stem from a variety of causes that are discussed in this report.
    Full-text · Article · Sep 2014 · Child Abuse Review
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    • "At the baseline and 42- month assessments, we found no differences among the three groups of children in their ability to discriminate happy, sad, fearful, and neutral facial expressions (Nelson et al., 2006; Jeon et al., 2010). There were also few differences among the groups in their ERP responses to happy, sad, fearful, and angry facial expressions (Parker et al., 2005; Moulson et al., 2009). Thus, our findings across the baseline, 42-month, and current assessments paint a fairly consistent picture of emotion processing in children who experienced early institutionalization . "
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    ABSTRACT: We tested the capacity to perceive visual expressions of emotion, and to use those expressions as guides to social decisions, in three groups of 8- to 10-year-old Romanian children: children abandoned to institutions then randomly assigned to remain in ‘care as usual’ (institutional care); children abandoned to institutions then randomly assigned to a foster care intervention; and community children who had never been institutionalized. Experiment 1 examined children's recognition of happy, sad, fearful, and angry facial expressions that varied in intensity. Children assigned to institutional care had higher thresholds for identifying happy expressions than foster care or community children, but did not differ in their thresholds for identifying the other facial expressions. Moreover, the error rates of the three groups of children were the same for all of the facial expressions. Experiment 2 examined children's ability to use facial expressions of emotion to guide social decisions about whom to befriend and whom to help. Children assigned to institutional care were less accurate than foster care or community children at deciding whom to befriend; however, the groups did not differ in their ability to decide whom to help. Overall, although there were group differences in some abilities, all three groups of children performed well across tasks. The results are discussed in the context of theoretical accounts of the development of emotion processing.
    Full-text · Article · Jul 2014 · Developmental Science
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