Early Parenting Intervention and Adverse Family Environments Affect Neural Function in Middle Childhood

Biol Psychiatry. 2019 Feb 15;85(4):326-335. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2018.09.020. Epub 2018 Oct 5.


Background: Growing work points to the negative impact of early adverse experiences on the developing brain. An outstanding question concerns the extent to which early intervention can normalize trajectories of brain development in at-risk children. We tested this within the context of a randomized clinical trial of an early parenting program, the Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up (ABC), delivered to parents and infants monitored for maltreatment by Child Protective Services.

Methods: Families participated in the randomized clinical trial when children were 2.5 years of age or younger. Parenting and home adversity was measured at baseline. Children were followed longitudinally, and resting brain activity was measured electrophysiologically (n = 106) when children reached 8 years of age. Spectral power was quantified and compared across children assigned to the experimental intervention (ABC), a control intervention, and a low-risk comparison group (n = 76) recruited at the follow-up assessment.

Results: Higher early home adversity was associated with electrophysiological profiles indicative of cortical delays/immaturity in middle childhood, based on relatively greater power in lower frequency bands (theta, 4-6 Hz, and low alpha, 6-9 Hz) and lower power in a higher frequency band (high alpha, 9-12 Hz). Children assigned to ABC showed relatively greater high-frequency power (beta, 12-20 Hz) than children assigned to the control intervention. Beta power in the ABC did not differ from that of the low-risk comparison group.

Conclusions: Maltreatment risk and home adversity can affect indicators of middle childhood brain maturation. Early parenting programs can support more normative patterns of neural function during middle childhood.

Keywords: Brain maturation; Childhood maltreatment; Early adversity; Early intervention; Parenting; Resting EEG.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Waves / physiology*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / therapy*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Electroencephalography
  • Environment
  • Family Therapy*
  • Family*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Parenting / psychology*