Subliminal Trauma Reminders Impact Neural Processing of Cognitive Control in Adults with Developmental Earthquake Trauma: A Preliminary Report

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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Psychology


Little is known about the effects of developmental trauma on the neural basis of cognitive control among adults who do not have posttraumatic stress disorder. To examine this question, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to compare the effect of subliminal priming with earthquake-related images on attentional control during a Stroop task in survivors of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake in China (survivor group, survivors were adolescents at the time of the earthquake) and in matched controls (control group). We found that the survivor group showed greater activation in the left ventral anterior cingulate cortex (vACC) and the bilateral parahippocampal gyrus during the congruent versus incongruent condition, as compared to the control group. Depressive symptoms were positively correlated with left vACC activation during the congruent condition. Moreover, psychophysiological interaction results showed that the survivor group had stronger functional connectivity between the left parahippocampal gyrus and the left vACC than the control group under the congruent–incongruent condition. These results suggested that trauma-related information was linked to abnormal activity in brain networks associated with cognitive control (e.g., vACC–parahippocampal gyrus). This may be a potential biomarker for depression following developmental trauma, and it may also provide a mechanism linking trauma reminders with depression.

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