Age differences in electrocortical reactivity to fearful faces following aversive conditioning in youth
Although biases in the processing of affectively salient stimuli are thought to increase risk for psychopathology across the lifespan, questions remain regarding how these biases develop. The current study tested an aversive conditioning model for the development of children’s sensitivity in detecting fearful faces at varying levels of emotional intensity and their facilitated attention to fearful faces assessed via the late positive potential (LPP) event-related potential component. Participants (N = 144, ages 7–11 years) were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: an active training condition in which an 85-dB white noise burst was paired with fearful faces, an active control condition in which the white noise was presented randomly throughout the task, and a no-sound condition. Children completed a separate task in which they viewed happy, sad, and fearful child faces at varying levels of emotional intensity while electroencephalography (EEG) was recorded. Although there were no conditioning group differences in children’s sensitivity in detecting facial displays of emotion, there were group differences in LPP magnitude that were moderated by children’s age. Among younger children, those in the active conditioning group exhibited smaller LPP amplitudes to high-intensity fearful faces than children in the control groups. However, among older youth, those in the active conditioning group exhibited larger LPP amplitudes to high-intensity fearful faces than children in the control groups. These findings provide insight into how attentional biases may develop in children and how period of development may influence these patterns.
Burkhouse, K. L., Owens, M., James, K., & Gibb, B. E. (2019). Age differences in electrocortical reactivity to fearful faces following aversive conditioning in youth. Journal of experimental child psychology, 188, 104676. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2019.104676
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