Elevated amygdala response to faces following early deprivation

Dev Sci. 2011 Mar;14(2):190-204. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-7687.2010.00971.x.


A functional neuroimaging study examined the long-term neural correlates of early adverse rearing conditions in humans as they relate to socio-emotional development. Previously institutionalized (PI) children and a same-aged comparison group were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while performing an Emotional Face Go/Nogo task. PI children showed heightened activity of the amygdala, a region that supports emotional learning and reactivity to emotional stimuli, and corresponding decreases in cortical regions that support perceptual and cognitive functions. Amygdala activity was associated with decreased eye-contact as measured by eye-tracking methods and during a live dyadic interaction. The association between early rearing environment and subsequent eye-contact was mediated by amygdala activity. These data support the hypothesis that early adversity alters human brain development in a way that can persist into childhood, and they offer insight into the socio-emotional disturbances in human behavior following early adversity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Affective Symptoms
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Attention
  • Brain / embryology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Child
  • Child, Institutionalized*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emotions
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Orphanages
  • Personality Development*
  • Sensory Deprivation
  • Social Behavior