Neurobiological sequelae of childhood maltreatment: potential mechanisms to risky, impulsive and self-destructive behaviors

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University of Delaware
Childhood maltreatment has been identified as a robust risk factor for a myriad of poor psychological and health outcomes. Despite these advancements, significant gaps in our understanding still remain regarding mechanisms through which maltreatment confers risk for psychosocial problems that persist across the lifespan. To address this, recent theoretical models have advocated for dimensional approaches that specify how unique dimensions of adversity relate to psychological processes and neurobiological alterations that may clarify the equifinality and multifinality of poor outcomes following exposure to adversity. Based on these theories, the overarching objective of this dissertation was to examine psychological and neurobiological correlates of Childhood Deprivation (e.g., neglect) and Threat (e.g., physical abuse) in adulthood. First, I provide an overview of the existing literature, and present preliminary results from three completed studies that served as a foundation for my proposed dissertation project. Informed by the National Institute of Mental Health's Research Domain Criteria (RDoC), the specific aims of my dissertation project are to investigate how childhood maltreatment relates to risk-taking behaviors via: a) trait affective and motivational processes and b) brain activation during affectively-manipulated tasks of inhibitory control. Results provide initial support for dimensional models of childhood maltreatment. We found that childhood experiences of neglect and abuse were differentially associated with affective and inhibitory control processes observed at a behavioral and neural level. Specifically, findings suggest that disruptions in inhibitory control and both negative and positive processes are important in understanding self-regulation failure in the context of Childhood Deprivation, whereas negative affective processes appear to be particularly important in the context of Childhood Threat. Findings are discussed in the context of existing literature of childhood maltreatment, potential implications for clinical interventions, and areas for future research.
Childhood maltreatment, Self-destructive behaviors, Psychosocial problems, Neurobiological correlates, Clinical interventions