Amygdala activation in maltreated children during pre-attentive emotional processing

E.J. McCrory, S.A. De Brito, P.A. Kelly, G. Bird, C.L. Sebastian, A. Mechelli, S. Samuel, E. Viding

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

105 Citations (Scopus)
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Background Childhood adversity is associated with significantly increased risk of psychiatric disorder. To date, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies of children have mainly focused on institutionalisation and investigated conscious processing of affect. Aims To investigate neural response to pre-attentively presented affect cues in a community sample of children with documented experiences of maltreatment in the home. Method A masked dot-probe paradigm involving pre-attentive presentation of angry, happy and neutral facial expressions was employed. Eighteen maltreated children were compared with 23 carefully matched non-maltreated peers. Results Increased neural response was observed in the right amygdala for pre-attentively presented angry and happy faces in maltreated v. non-maltreated children. Level of amygdala activation was negatively associated with age at onset for several abuse subtypes. Conclusions Maltreatment is associated with heightened neural response to positive and negative facial affect, even to stimuli outside awareness. This may represent a latent neural risk factor for future psychiatric disorder.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-276
Number of pages8
JournalBritish Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2013


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