Negative emotional experiences can be more difficult to forget than neutral ones, a phenomenon termed the "emotional memory effect." Individual differences in the strength of the emotional memory effect are associated with emotional health. Thus, understanding the neurobiological underpinnings of the emotional memory effect has important implications, especially for individuals at risk for emotional health problems. Although the neural basis of emotional memory effects has been relatively well defined, less is known about how hormonal factors that can modulate emotional memory, such as glucocorticoids, relate to that neural basis. Importantly, probing the role of glucocorticoids in the stress- and emotion-sensitive period of late childhood to adolescence could provide actionable points of intervention. We addressed this gap by testing whether hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity during a parent-child conflict task at 11 years of age predicted emotional memory and its primary neural circuitry (i.e., amygdala-hippocampus functional connectivity) at 16 years of age in a longitudinal study of 147 girls (104 with complete data). Results showed that lower HPA axis activity predicted stronger emotional memory effects, r(124) = -.236, p < .01, and higher emotional memory-related functional connectivity between the right hippocampus and the right amygdala, β = -.385, p < .001. These findings suggest that late childhood HPA axis activity may modulate the neural circuitry of emotional memory effects in adolescence, which may confer a potential risk trajectory for emotional health among girls.
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