Altered processing of emotional faces due to childhood maltreatment has repeatedly been reported, and may be a key process underlying the intergenerational transmission of maltreatment. The current study is the first to examine the role of neural reactivity to emotional and neutral faces in the transmission of maltreatment, using a multi-generational family design including 171 participants of 51 families of two generations with a large age range (8–69 years). The impact of experienced and perpetrated maltreatment (abuse and neglect) on face processing was examined in association with activation in the amygdala, hippocampus, inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and insula in response to angry, fearful, happy and neutral faces. Results showed enhanced bilateral amygdala activation in response to fearful faces in older neglected individuals, whereas reduced amygdala activation was found in response to these faces in younger neglected individuals. Furthermore, while experienced abuse was associated with lower IFG activation in younger individuals, experience of neglect was associated with higher IFG activation in this age group, pointing to potentially differential effects of abuse and neglect and significant age effects. Perpetrated abusive and neglectful behavior were not related to neural activation in any of these regions. Hence, no indications for a role of neural reactivity to emotional faces in the intergenerational transmission of maltreatment were found.
- Child maltreatment
- Emotional face processing