Nim Tottenham, Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology, Colombia University, New York NY, USA
Early caregiver deprivation has been associated with an increased risk for alterations of neurobiology (e.g., the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex) that give rise to internalizing problems like anxiety and depression. However, these alterations sometimes have cost-benefit trade-offs, suggesting they might be better understood through the lens of developmental adaptations. This talk presents behavioral and neuroimaging findings from children and adolescents who either experienced previous institutional caregiving (PI youth) or caregiving by a biological parent from birth. Participants completed a battery of tasks that assessed emotional attention, emotional learning, and emotional appraisals. Enhanced emotional attention and learning was associated with increased amygdala reactivity and a broader recruitment of several regions, including increased connectivity with prefrontal cortex and hippocampus in the PI youth. These patterns were not observed in the comparison group, and instead are typically observed in adults. However, this more adult-like broader recruitment predicted significant improvements in future anxiety (measured 2 years later). Moreover, more adult-like emotional appraisals were associated with resilience against internalizing problems. These results suggest that early adversity alters the affective neurobiology. However, some of these alterations might be evidence of developmental adaptations that have behavioral advantages following exposure to early parental deprivation. These differences are interpreted as ontogenetic adaptations and potential sources of resilience.