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Thirty-Third Annual Meeting of the Society for Research in Psychopathology

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34. Right frontal brain activity in early 20’s predicts threat-related biases in early 30’s among extremely low birth weight survivors: Implications for understanding developmental programming of psychopathology

Exposure to early adversity is known to shape brain-behavior relations that make individuals more susceptible to threat, leading to a range of psychopathologies. To date, much of the work in this area has considered exposure to detrimental post-natal events (e.g., maltreatment) in shaping these relations. Here we examined the influence of prenatal adversity in the form of a suboptimal intra-uterine environment defined by extremely low birth weight (ELBW i.e., < 1000 grams). ELBW babies are the tiniest and most at risk infants and are known to be at risk for internalizing problems (e.g., depression and anxiety) through early adulthood. However, we know relatively little concerning potential mechanism(s) underlying this risk. Using the oldest known prospectively followed cohort of ELBW survivors, we examined the relations among birth weight status, individual differences in frontal brain activity at rest (a marker of affective style) at ages 22-26 years, and threat-related biases to angry faces (using the dot probe task) at ages 30-35 years. We found that among ELBW adult survivors, those displaying greater relative right frontal EEG asymmetry exhibited higher vigilance to angry faces than those exhibiting greater relative left frontal EEG activity (n =34, r = -.40, p =.010). This pattern was not observed among normal birth weight (NBW) controls (n =47, r = .08, p =.30). As well, the relation between frontal asymmetry and vigilance to angry faces was stronger for the ELBW group versus the NBW group (z = -2.21, p = .034, two-tailed). Findings suggest that exposure to extreme prenatal adversity may have long-term programming effects on biological and cognitive systems associated with emotion regulatory processes in the fourth decade of life. We speculate that these vulnerabilities may make some ELBW survivors more susceptible to psychopathology.

Jennifer Mullen
McMaster University

Louis Schmidt
McMaster University


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