Published on January 8, 2019 | Updated on January 29, 2019

CORTEX conference by Nathan Fox

October 22th, 2018

The Long Term Effects of Early Adversity on Children’s Development

Developmental psychologists and educators assume that early experiences shape the brain and neural circuitry for emerging cognitive and social behaviors over the first years of life. Most of the evidence for these assumptions is based on rodent and non human primate animal research. Far less has been published on the effects of early experience that is not correlational in nature. The Bucharest Early Intervention Project (BEIP) is the first randomized trial of a family intervention for children who experienced significant psychosocial neglect early in their lives. A group of infants living in institutions in Romania were recruited and randomized to either be taken out of the institution and placed into family/foster care homes or to remain in the institution. Follow up of these children occurred at 42 and 54 months of age and at 8, 12, and 16 years of age. Multiple domains, including cognitive, socio-emotional, psychiatric, and brain imaging were assessed at each age. Three questions are posed in this study and this talk: first, are there lasting effects of early psychosocial deprivation as children develop over the school years. Second, is intervention successful in ameliorating deficits as a result of institutionalization. And third, are there sensitive periods in delivering the intervention that explain both success and failure to improve cognitive and socio-emotional behavior. In my talk I will review the influence of the BEIP on the area of early adversity in child development, and the implications of this work on research for issues of child protection in the United States and for institutionalized children around the world.

Decisions are said to be ‘risky’ when they are made in environments with uncertainty caused by nature. In contrast, a decision is said to be ‘trusting’ when its outcome depends on the uncertain decisions of another person. A rapidly expanding literature reveals economically important differences between risky and trusting decisions, and further suggests these differences are due to ‘betrayal aversion’. We discuss behavioral experiments supporting the hypothesis that betrayal aversion stems from a desire to avoid negative emotions that arise from learning one's trust was betrayed. We proceed to discuss evidence from an fMRI study that supports this hypothesis. In particular, we present data indicating that the anterior insula modulates trusting decisions that involve the possibility of betrayal.