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Positive valence bias and parent–child relationship security moderate the association between early institutional caregiving and internalizing symptoms

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 April 2017

Michelle R. Vantieghem*
Columbia University
Laurel Gabard-Durnam
Columbia University
Bonnie Goff
University of California, Los Angeles
Jessica Flannery
University of Oregon
Kathryn L. Humphreys
Stanford University
Eva H. Telzer
University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign
Christina Caldera
University of California, Los Angeles
Jennifer Y. Louie
Kaiser Permanente, Santa Clara
Mor Shapiro
University of California, Los Angeles
Niall Bolger
Columbia University
Nim Tottenham
Columbia University
Address correspondence and reprint request to: Michelle R. VanTieghem, Department of Psychology, Columbia University, 406 Schermerhorn Hall, 1990 Amsterdam Avenue, MC 5501, New York, NY 10027; E-mail:


Institutional caregiving is associated with significant deviations from species-expected caregiving, altering the normative sequence of attachment formation and placing children at risk for long-term emotional difficulties. However, little is known about factors that can promote resilience following early institutional caregiving. In the current study, we investigated how adaptations in affective processing (i.e., positive valence bias) and family-level protective factors (i.e., secure parent–child relationships) moderate risk for internalizing symptoms in previously institutionalized (PI) youth. Children and adolescents with and without a history of institutional care performed a laboratory-based affective processing task and self-reported measures of parent–child relationship security. PI youth were more likely than comparison youth to show positive valence biases when interpreting ambiguous facial expressions. Both positive valence bias and parent–child relationship security moderated the association between institutional care and parent-reported internalizing symptoms, such that greater positive valence bias and more secure parent–child relationships predicted fewer symptoms in PI youth. However, when both factors were tested concurrently, parent–child relationship security more strongly moderated the link between PI status and internalizing symptoms. These findings suggest that both individual-level adaptations in affective processing and family-level factors of secure parent–child relationships may ameliorate risk for internalizing psychopathology following early institutional caregiving.

Special Issue Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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This research was supported by National Institute of Mental Health Grant R01MH091864 and the Dana Foundation (to N.T.). This material is also based on work supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Grant DGE-11-44155 (to M.R.V.T.) and NSF Conference Grant BCS-1439258 (Co-Investigator N.T.).


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