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Poster D52, Thursday, November 9, 6:15 – 7:30 pm, Harborview and Loch Raven Ballrooms

Neural processing of emotional words in post-institutionalized adults: an ERP study using Emotional Stroop task

Marina Zhukova1, Irina Ovchinnikova1, Sergey Kornilov1,2,3,4, Elena Grigorenko1,2,3,4,5;1Saint-Petersburg State University, Saint-Petersburg, Russia, 2University of Houston, Houston, TX, USA, 3Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, USA, 4Haskins Laboratories, New Haven, CT, USA, 5Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA

In countries where the foster family system is not widespread, children left without parental care are raised in institutional settings (IC) characterized by impoverished early care environments. Children raised in IC show cognitive, linguistic, and socio-emotional deficits. However, little is known about a) the interplay between cognitive, linguistic, and emotional processing in this subpopulation, b) the extent to which they continue into adulthood. The present study examined processing of neutral and emotional words using the Emotional Stroop (ES) paradigm in a sample of young IC adults, compared to their typically developing peers raised in biological families (BF). ES is a modification of the Stroop paradigm, which uses emotionally charged stimuli as a source of interference (Williams et al., 1996), and has been used with vulnerable subpopulations, including war veterans (Ashley et al., 2013) and abuse victims (Bremner et al., 2004). The goals of our study were two-fold: we investigated whether IC adults demonstrate atypical processing of emotionally-salient words in general, and whether they exhibit selective processing bias towards family-related words. We recruited 28 young adults with IC history (20 males; Mage=21.6, SD=6.2; duration of institutionalization Мyears=10, SD=5.1) and 31 BF controls (18 males M=22, SD=5) matched on SES and level of education. Participants viewed words and were asked to press a button corresponding to the color of the word, disregarding the meaning of the word. Target stimuli consisted of 50 nouns (25 positive, 25 negative in valence) semantically associated with the concept of “family” and 50 unrelated nouns matched on the level of abstractness, length, and frequency. Control stimuli included traditional Stroop “color match” and “color mismatch” words. EEG was recorded at the scalp using 64 active Ag/AgCl with the actiCHamp EEG amplifier system. Statistical analyses revealed a complex pattern of results. First, we did not find group differences in the amplitudes of the N2 and P3 components in response to family-associated emotionally-charged words vs. non-associated emotionally charged words (p > .05), suggesting that institutionalization does not leave a semantic “traumatic” footprint. Second, adults with a history of IC showed a markedly delayed right-lateralized parietal P3b in the traditional color mismatch Stroop condition, compared to BF (353ms vs. 309ms, p=.006), indicating the presence of overall processing deficit. Finally, we found that while positive-valence words (across conditions) elicited a more pronounced N2 (compared to the neutral color words) in the BF group, the size of this effect tended to be smaller in the IC group (p=.059). Crucially, the size of this difference within the IC group correlated with their emotional well-being as measured by the WHO Quality of Life questionnaire (r = .42, p = .04). Thus, the results suggest that 1) institutional care is associated with general cognitive and emotional processing deficits in adulthood in the verbal domain, and that 2) neural sensitivity to positive emotional valence in this subpopulation is associated with levels of their psychological well-being. The reported study was funded by RFBR, according to the research project No. 16-36-60046 mol_а_dk.

Topic Area: Meaning: Prosody, Social and Emotional Processes

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