Title: Brain areas where the difference between the anticipation of potential large rewards (+$5) vs. no rewards (+$0) is significantly correlated with early life stress.
Legend: Brain areas where the difference between the anticipation of potential large rewards (+$5) vs. no rewards (+$0) is significantly correlated with early life stress. Blue regions indicate areas where the brain activation during the anticipation of potential rewards vs. no rewards is negatively correlated with early life stress. That is, the participants with higher early life stress showed lower activation in the precuneus, middle temporal gyrus, and cerebellum during the anticipation of potential rewards (P < 0.05).
Citation: Birn RM, Roeber BJ, Pollak SD. (2017). Early childhood stress exposure, reward pathways, and adult decision making. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Dec 19;114(51):13549-13554
Abstract: Individuals who have experienced chronic and high levels of stress during their childhoods are at increased risk for a wide range of behavioral problems, yet the neurobiological mechanisms underlying this association are poorly understood. We measured the life circumstances of a community sample of school-aged children and then followed these children for a decade. Those from the highest and lowest quintiles of childhood stress exposure were invited to return to our laboratory as young adults, at which time we reassessed their life circumstances, acquired fMRI data during a reward-processing task, and tested their judgment and decision making. Individuals who experienced high levels of early life stress showed lower levels of brain activation when processing cues signaling potential loss and increased responsivity when actually experiencing losses. Specifically, those with high childhood stress had reduced activation in the posterior cingulate/precuneus, middle temporal gyrus, and superior occipital cortex during the anticipation of potential rewards; reduced activation in putamen and insula during the anticipation of potential losses; and increased left inferior frontal gyrus activation when experiencing an actual loss. These patterns of brain activity were associated with both laboratory and real-world measures of individuals’ risk taking in adulthood. Importantly, these effects were predicated only by childhood stress exposure and not by current levels of life stress.
About the Lab:
Research projects in The Child Emotion lab are focused upon children’s emotional development and the relationship between early emotional experience and child psychopathology. We are particularly interested in understanding two related aspects of emotional development:
- What are the mechanisms of normal emotional development?
- To what extent are emotions shaped by nature and nurture?
- Does it make sense to try and separate biology and experience?
- How are emotions related to the development of psychopathology in children?
- Might the development of emotional processes help explain the link between people’s early experiences and later development of psychological difficulties?