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An event-related potential study of the impact of institutional rearing on face recognition

  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 September 2005

Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded to brief images of caregivers' and strangers' faces for 72 institutionalized children (IG), ages 7–32 months, and compared with ERPs from 33 children, ages 8–32 months, who had never been institutionalized. All children resided in Bucharest, Romania. Prominent differences in four ERP components were observed: early negative (N170), early positive (P250), midlatency negative (Nc), and positive slow wave (PSW). For all but the P250, the amplitude of these components was larger in the never instituionalized group than the institutionalized group; this pattern was reversed for the P250. Typical effects of the Nc (amplitude greater to stranger vs. caregiver) were observed in both groups; in contrast, the IG group showed an atypical pattern in the PSW. These findings are discussed in the context of the role of experience in influencing the neural circuitry putatively involved in recognizing familiar and novel faces.The work reported in this manuscript was supported by a research network (Early Experience and Brain Development) funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (Charles A. Nelson, Network Chair). The Bucharest Early Intervention Core Group consists of Charles H. Zeanah, Anna T. Smyke, and Sebastian F. Koga (Tulane University); Charles A. Nelson (Harvard Medical School); Susan W. Parker (Randolph-Macon College); Nathan A. Fox (University of Maryland); Peter J. Marshall (Temple University); and Hermi R. Woodward (University of Pittsburgh/MacArthur Research Networks). The authors acknowledge the many invaluable contributions of their Romanian partner institutions, the SERA Romania Foundation, the Institute of Maternal and Child Health, and the Bucharest Departments of Child Protection. They are also deeply grateful to their Romanian team, whose hard work and dedication has made this study possible and to Dana Johnson and Mary Jo Spencer for conducting the pediatric screens.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Susan W. Parker, Department of Psychology, Randolph-Macon College, P.O. Box 5005, Ashland, VA 23005-5505; E-mail:
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Development and Psychopathology
  • ISSN: 0954-5794
  • EISSN: 1469-2198
  • URL: /core/journals/development-and-psychopathology
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