General and Emotion-specific Alterations to Cognitive Control in Women with a History of Childhood Abuse
College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Psychology
Although limited, the literature suggests alterations in activation of cognitive control regions in adults and adolescents with a history of childhood abuse. The current study examined whether such alterations are increased in the face of emotionally-distracting as compared to emotionally neutral information, and whether such alterations occur in brain regions that exert cognitive control in a more top-down sustained manner or a more bottom-up transient manner.
Participants were young adult women (ages 23–30): one group with a history of childhood physical or sexual abuse (N = 15) and one with no trauma exposure (N = 17), as assessed through the Trauma History Questionnaire and a two-stage interview adapted from the National Crime Victims Survey. Participants underwent fMRI scanning while completing hybrid block/event-related versions of a classic color-word and an emotional Stroop paradigm (threat and positive words). This paradigm allowed us to examine both sustained (activation persisting across blocks) and transient (event-specific activation) aspects of cognitive control.
Women with a history of childhood abuse demonstrated decreased recruitment of frontal-parietal regions involved in cognitive control and enhanced recruitment of a ventral attention surveillance network during blocks of both versions of the Stroop task. Additionally, they had less suppression of brain regions involved in self-referential processes for threat blocks, but greater suppression of these regions for positive blocks. Severity of avoidance symptoms was associated with sustained activation in lateral prefrontal regions, whereas hyperarousal/re-experiencing symptoms were associated with sustained activity in temporal regions. No differential effects were observed for transient control.
Results suggest exposure to childhood abuse is associated with blunted recruitment of brain regions supporting task-set maintenance but hypervigilance for task-irrelevant information, regardless of whether distractors are emotionally neutral or emotional. Exposure to childhood abuse is also associated with less suppression of default mode brain regions associated with self-referential processing in the face of irrelevant threat information, but heightened ability to suppress similar processing for irrelevant positive information.
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Mackiewicz Seghete, K. L., Kaiser, R. H., DePrince, A. P., & Banich, M. T. (2017). General and emotion-specific alterations to cognitive control in women with a history of childhood abuse. NeuroImage Clinical, 16, 151-164. DOI: 10.1016/j.nicl.2017.06.030.