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An event-related potential study of the processing of affective facial expressions in young children who experienced maltreatment during the first year of life


This investigation examined the effects of maltreatment during the first year of life on the neural correlates of processing facial expressions of emotion at 30 months of age. Event-related potentials (ERPs) in response to children passively viewing standardized pictures of female models posing angry, happy, and neutral facial expressions were examined. Four ERP waveform components were derived: early negative (N150), early positive (P260), negative central (Nc), and positive slow wave (PSW). Differences in these waveforms between a group of 35 maltreated and 24 nonmaltreated children were reported. The groups did not differ on the early perceptual negative component (N150), whereas the maltreated children had greater P260 amplitude at frontal leads compared to the nonmaltreated children in response to viewing angry facial expressions. For the Nc component, the nonmaltreated comparison children exhibited greater amplitude while viewing pictures of happy faces compared to angry and neutral faces, whereas the maltreated children showed greater Nc amplitude at central sites while viewing angry faces. For the PSW, the nonmaltreated group showed a greater area score in the right hemisphere in response to viewing angry facial expressions compared to the maltreated group. The results are discussed in terms of brain development and function, as well as their implications for the design and evaluation of preventive interventions.This research was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH067792-02) and the Spunk Fund, Inc. to Dante Cicchetti. We gratefully acknowledge the technical assistance of Rafael Klorman, PhD, and Karen La Due in setting up the ERP laboratory at Mt. Hope Family Center, which was used to carry out this study. Moreover, we appreciate the support and advice provided by Drs. Sheree L. Toth and Fred A. Rogosch. In addition, we are grateful to Karen La Due, Steve Perino, and Shannon O'Hara, as well as other staff at Mt. Hope Family Center, for their assistance in data collection. Finally, we are eternally grateful to those families who participated in this research.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Dante Cicchetti, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, 51 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455.
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