News and Commentary Archive

Explore recent scientific discoveries and news as well as CLBB events, commentary, and press.

Mission

The speed of technology in neuroscience as it impacts ethical and just decisions in the legal system needs to be understood by lawyers, judges, public policy makers, and the general public. The Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior is an academic and professional resource for the education, research, and understanding of neuroscience and the law. Read more

Working Memory Filtering Continues to Develop into Late Adolescence

By Matthew R. Peverill, Katie A. McLaughlin, Amy S. Finn, and Margaret A. Sheridan | Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience | February 16, 2016

Abstract:

While most measures of working memory (WM) performance have been shown to plateau by mid-adolescence and developmental changes in fronto-parietal regions supporting WM encoding and maintenance have been well characterized, little is known about developmental variation in WM filtering. We investigated the possibility that the neural underpinnings of filtering in WM reach maturity later in life than WM function without filtering. Using a cued WM filtering task (McNab & Klingberg, 2008), we investigated neural activity during WM filtering in a sample of 64 adults and adolescents. Regardless of age, increases in WM activity with load were concentrated in the expected fronto-parietal network. For adults, but not adolescents, recruitment of the basal ganglia during presentation of a filtering cue was associated with neural and behavioral indices of successful filtering, suggesting that WM filtering and related basal ganglia function may still be maturing throughout adolescence and into adulthood.

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Developmental Dissociation Between the Maturation of Procedural Memory and Declarative Memory

By Amy S. Finn, Priya B. Kalra, Calvin Goetz, Julia A. Leonard, Margaret A. Sheridan, and John D.E. Gabrieli | Journal of Experimental Child Psychology | November 7, 2015

Abstract:

Declarative memory and procedural memory are known to be two fundamentally different kinds of memory that are dissociable in their psychological characteristics and measurement (explicit vs. implicit) and in the neural systems that subserve each kind of memory. Declarative memory abilities are known to improve from childhood through young adulthood, but the developmental maturation of procedural memory is largely unknown. We compared 10-year-old children and young adults on measures of declarative memory and working memory capacity and on four measures of procedural memory that have been strongly dissociated from declarative memory (mirror tracing, rotary pursuit, probabilistic classification, and artificial grammar). Children had lesser declarative memory ability and lesser working memory capacity than adults, but children exhibited learning equivalent to adults on all four measures of procedural memory. Therefore, declarative memory and procedural memory are developmentally dissociable, with procedural memory being adult-like by age 10 years and declarative memory continuing to mature into young adulthood.

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Habitual Reappraisal in Context: Peer Victimization Moderates its Association with Physiological Reactivity to Social Stress

By Kara A. Christensen, Amelia Aldao, Margaret A. Sheridan, and Katie A. McLaughlin | Cognition and Emotion | September 2015

Abstract:

Although the emotion regulation strategy of reappraisal has been associated with adaptive outcomes (e.g., Aldao et al., 2010), there is growing evidence that it may not be adaptive in all contexts (Troy et al., 2013). In the present study, adolescents reported their use of habitual reappraisal and their experiences with peer victimization, a chronic stressor that has significant associations with reduced well-being in this population. We examined how these variables predicted physiological reactivity (vagal withdrawal and changes in pre-ejection period) during a social stressor (i.e., Trier Social Stress Task; Kirschbaum et al., 1993). In line with the findings by Troy et al., (2013), at high levels of victimization, habitual reappraisal positively predicted adaptive physiological reactivity (i.e., greater vagal withdrawal). Conversely, at low levels of victimization, habitual reappraisal negatively predicted maladaptive physiological reactivity (i.e., blunted vagal withdrawal). These findings were specific to parasympathetic reactivity. They suggest that habitual reappraisal may exert different effects on parasympathetic reactivity depending on the presence of stressors, and highlight the importance of examining the role of contextual factors in determining the adaptiveness of ER processes.

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High-Quality Foster Care Mitigates Callous-Unemotional Traits Following Early Deprivation in Boys: A Randomized Controlled Trial

By Kathryn L. Humphreys, Lucy McGoron, Margaret A. Sheridan, Katie A. McLaughlin, Nathan A. Fox, Charles A. Nelson III, and Charles H. Zeanah | Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry | October 9, 2015

Abstract:

Objective

Callous-unemotional (CU) traits in childhood are a developmental precursor to psychopathy, yet the origins and etiology of CU traits are not known. We examined CU traits among 12-year-old children exposed to severe early deprivation and evaluated whether a high-quality foster care intervention mitigated the development of high levels of CU traits.

Method

Participants were from the Bucharest Early Intervention Project, a randomized controlled trial of foster care for children in institutions. Children were recruited from institutions in Bucharest, Romania, along with age- and sex-matched children who were never institutionalized. Children raised in institutional settings were randomized (Mage=22 months) to either a foster-care group (n=68) or a care-as-usual group (n=68). CU traits were assessed at age 12.75 years in available participants from the randomized trial (n=95) and children who were never institutionalized (n=50).

Results

Children who experienced institutional rearing as young children had significantly higher levels of CU traits in early adolescence compared to children who were never institutionalized. Intent-to-treat analysis indicated that, among boys, CU traits were significantly lower among those who received the foster care intervention compared to those randomized to care as usual. Caregiver responsiveness to distress, but not caregiver warmth, mediated the intervention effect on CU traits in boys.

Conclusion

These findings provide the first evidence to date that psychosocial intervention can prevent the onset of CU traits. Although severe early deprivation predicted increased levels of CU traits, high-quality foster care that emphasized responsive caregiving reduced the impact of deprivation on CU trait development for boys.

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Variation in CACNA1C is Associated with Amygdala Structure and Function in Adolescents

By Jennifer A. Sumner, Margaret A. Sheridan, Stacy S. Drury, Kyle C. Esteves, Kate Walsh, Karestan C. Koenen, and Katie A. McLaughlin | Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology | September 24, 2015

Abstract:

Objective: Genome-wide association studies have identified allelic variation in CACNA1C as a risk factor for multiple psychiatric disorders associated with limbic system dysfunction, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression. The CACNA1C gene codes for a subunit of L-type voltage-gated calcium channels, which modulate amygdala function. Although CACNA1C genotype appears to be associated with amygdala morphology and function in adults with and without psychopathology, whether genetic variation influences amygdala structure and function earlier in development has not been examined.

Methods: In this first investigation of the neural correlates of CACNA1C in young individuals, we examined associations between two single nucleotide polymorphisms in CACNA1C (rs1006737 and rs4765914) with amygdala volume and activation during an emotional processing task in 58 adolescents and young adults 13–20 years of age.

Results: Minor (T) allele carriers of rs4765914 exhibited smaller amygdala volume than major (C) allele homozygotes (β=−0.33, p=0.006). Furthermore, minor (A) allele homozygotes of rs1006737 exhibited increased blood–oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) signal in the amygdala when viewing negative (vs. neutral) stimuli (β=0.29, p=0.040) and decreased BOLD signal in the amygdala when instructed to downregulate their emotional response to negative stimuli (β=−0.38, p=0.009). Follow-up analyses indicated that childhood trauma did not moderate the associations of CACNA1C variation with amygdala structure and function (ps>0.170).

Conclusions: Findings indicate that CACNA1C-related differences in amygdala structure and function are present by adolescence. However, population stratification is a concern, given the racial/ethnic heterogeneity of our sample, and our findings do not have direct clinical implications currently. Nevertheless, these results suggest that developmentally informed research can begin to shed light on the time course by which genetic liability may translate into neural differences associated with vulnerability to psychopathology.

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