The experiments proposed in this application will further understanding about why the experience of child abuse leads to a broad range of mental and physical health problems. Although millions of children experience various forms of child abuse each year in the United States, relatively little is understood about how this experience influences brain-behavioral development. The General Aim of this research is to examine how brain circuitry is shaped by environmental experience in ways that lead to childhood mental health problems. The research proposed in this application uses novel neuroscience-informed methods to measure the efficiency of emotional learning in 400 10-16 year old children, half of whom have been victims of child maltreatment.
The Specific Aims are to: (1) determine how children develop sensitivity to emotion-related contingencies in their environments, which is critical for understanding social behavior and related to problems such as anxiety and depression;(2) examine the efficiency with which children integrate and use emotional information using affective neuroscience markers of psychosocial stress as indicators of risk for mental illness;(3) test the extent to which the experience of early psychosocial stress undermines children's regulatory control of emotion processing, relevant to behaviors such as aggression and poor emotion regulation. In sum, this application proposes a continuing program of research that will examine altered emotional regulatory processes associated with child abuse. We will link these measures to mental health outcomes in early adolescents. This project has potential to synthesize key areas necessary to advance prevention and treatment of mental health problems in children and adults. Those include understanding (1) the neural circuitry and neurobiology of the brain's regulation of emotion, with an emphasis on understanding adaptations and squeal of chronic psychosocial stress exposure on affective neural circuits, (2) the development of these circuits, specifically the processes underlying periods of rapid neurobiological development in humans during which the brain may be particularly sensitive to contextual or environmental influences;and (3) defining and specifying ways in which the environment creates long-term effects on brain and behavior. Each of these foci holds tremendous promise for advancement of knowledge and application to improvement of public health.

Public Health Relevance

The research proposed in this application seeks to understand how the experience of child abuse exerts a lasting impact on children's brain development. Millions of children experience various forms of child abuse each year in the United States and it is known that these individuals are at heightened risk for a broad range of mental and physical health problems. But little is understood about how early experiences of psychosocial stress influence the neural systems that can lead to children's emotional and behavioral problems.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Project (R01)
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Study Section
Psychosocial Development, Risk and Prevention Study Section (PDRP)
Program Officer
Garvey, Marjorie A
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University of Wisconsin Madison
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Hilt, Lori M; Leitzke, Brian T; Pollak, Seth D (2016) Can't Take My Eyes Off of You: Eye Tracking Reveals How Ruminating Young Adolescents Get Stuck. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol :1-10
Leitzke, Brian T; Pollak, Seth D (2016) Developmental changes in the primacy of facial cues for emotion recognition. Dev Psychol 52:572-81
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Briggs-Gowan, Margaret J; Pollak, Seth D; Grasso, Damión et al. (2015) Attention bias and anxiety in young children exposed to family violence. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 56:1194-1201

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