The Impact of Early Experiences on Behavioral and Neural Correlates ofPsycho-Social Functioning:A Study on Attachment, Social Interaction and Facial Familiarity Processing inFoster Children and a Control Groupder Philosophischen Fakultät und Fachbereich Theologie derFriedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnbergzur Erlangung des Doktorgrades Dr. phil.vorgelegt vonDipl.-Psych. Melanie Tamara KunglausNürnberg
Als Dissertation genehmigtvon der Philosophischen Fakultät und Fachbereich Theologie derFriedrich–Alexander–Universität Erlangen–NürnbergTag der mündlichen Prüfung: 23.02.2016Vorsitzende des Promotionsorgans: Prof. Dr. Heike PaulGutachter: Prof. Dr. Gottfried SpanglerProf. Dr. Mark Stemmler
German Title/Deutscher Titel:Der Einfluss früher Erfahrungen auf behaviorale und neuronale Korrelate derpsychosozialen Anpassung:Eine Studie zu Bindung, sozialer Interaktion und Gesichterverarbeitung beiPflegekindern und einer Kontrollgruppe.
AcknowledgementsMaintaining a scientific jargon, I can definitely say that writing the acknowledgements hasbeen my major focus throughout the past months. Now that I have reached this goal, I am lookingback at an exciting journey that has led me over steep hills and valleys, and I want to thank thepeople who have supported me along the way.First of all, I thank my supervisor, Prof. Gottfried Spangler, who always found the time tolisten to me and encourage me to keep going. His own enthusiasm for attachment research andintroducing me to the field has influenced my thinking about interpersonal relationshipssubstantially. I also want to thank the people who have provided me with knowledge that wasfundamental to doing this study. In particular, Prof. Isabel Soares, who introduced me to their ERPstudy with children in institutions, and also, Prof. Marc Lewis and his students, for their input onneurophysiological assessments. A special thanks goes to Christa Steppert-Preiss for keeping trackof everything that had to do with this project. I also want to thank everyone else, who made thisstudy work, including research assistants, the people from the preceding longitudinal study, and, ofcourse, all participating families. Moreover, I thank Dr. Bernhard Pirkl and his team, who I amhappy to work with, especially because of their strong relational focus in working with childrenand families. Next, I want to thank my parents, for believing in me and for contributing to what Ihave become, both in their unique way. Then, I would like to thank former and current labmembers, who made it easy for me to find a lot of joy in coming to work. In particular, I want tothank Sandra Gabler, Luisa Hartmann and Rainer Leyh for our endless discussions about work andlife and for their great mental support. In this sense, I am also very grateful for Christine Heinisch,who happened to be at the right place at exactly the right time, it is so good to finally team up! Ialso want to thank my dear friend Mona Weiss, who has constantly encouraged me to do this andwho has inspired this dissertation with her very precious comments. In this line, I also want tothank all my other close friends for supporting me, especially Janna Maar, Kerstin Poplat, andSabine Böhl.Still, what has mainly given me the energy to do this, was being a mom. So I thank mywonderful son Liam for bringing me endless joy and always reminding me, what is important inlife. Finally, I want to thank you, Tom, for your loving support and for keeping up with this: Icouldn’t have done it without your help.I
Funding for the current project was provided by the Staedtler Stiftung. The research presented inhere also includes data from a longitudinal study that was funded by the German ResearchFoundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG, SP 312/19-1 and NO 891/1-1)II
AbstractThe current doctoral thesis set out to investigate the impact of early adverse caregivingexperiences on children’s psycho-social functioning on a behavioral and on a neurophysiologicallevel. Therefore sixteen 3- to 6-year-old foster children, who had been living within the fosterhome for 1 year, were compared to an age matched control group consisting of thirty childrenliving with their birth family. To assess children’s behavioral and neural responses to caregiversand strangers as important aspects of their socio-emotional development, we applied a behavioralsystem as well as an ERP approach. Attachment theory provided the theoretical background.Different behavioral correlates of attachment to (foster) mother and disinhibited social engagementtowards stranger were assessed during home and laboratory visits. Neurophysiological correlatesof facial familiarity processing were assessed during a passive viewing task presenting (foster)mother and stranger face stimuli.On a behavioral level, our results showed that, after 1 year in placement, foster children werecomparable to control children with regard to attachment security. However, they were more likelyto show dependent behaviors within the foster mother–child relationship. Furthermore, we found aremarkable presence of attachment behaviors towards their foster mother when being approachedby a stranger. Regarding (foster) children’s behavior towards strangers, we found foster mothers tobe more likely to report disinhibited social engagement behaviors than mothers of control children.Also, we found foster children to verbally engage more with a stranger and show more lookingbehavior when being approached by her. Interestingly, our results suggest that foster children weremore likely to show these behaviors when having their foster mother close to them, whichemphasizes the importance of the foster mother’s availability as a secure base.Regarding ERPs, we found that facial familiarity processing patterns were clearly different infoster as compared to control children. More precisely, the foster group showed dampened N170amplitudes for both the foster mother’s and stranger’s face. Collapsed over groups, dampenedN170 amplitudes were also found for the stranger as compared to the (foster) mother’s face, and,for insecurely attached children as compared to securely attached children. Thus, it is suggestedthat smaller amplitudes reflect children’s lack of experience with that particular type of stimulus. Ifthis interpretation is true, in foster children as well as insecurely attached children, this neuralpattern could be viewed as a result of poorer social interactions in earlier life. Regarding the Nccomponent, the overall findings suggest that foster children, but not control children, elicited largerNc amplitudes to the stranger as compared to the (foster) mother’s face, indicating heightenedattentional processing. Taking into account attachment security, we found insecurely attachedIII
children to relocate more attentional resources for processing both face types in terms of larger Ncamplitudes responses. However, this effect was apparent in control children only. While thesubgroup of securely attached foster children elicited smaller Nc amplitude responses to the fostermother’s face as compared to the stranger’s face, all foster children elicited large amplitudes to thestranger’s face regardless of attachment security. Also, certain brain-behavior correlations wereevident with regard to the components’ latency responses.In sum, our findings suggest that foster children are able to form an attachment relationship totheir foster mother that —in terms of security— is comparable to control children. However, thenature of this relationship seems to be substantially different when comparing both groups. Indeed,attachment security appears to be associated with different behavioral as well as neural correlatesdepending on group status. Furthermore, foster children showed atypical social behavior towardsstrangers while, at the same time, eliciting larger Nc amplitudes to the stranger’s face. Assumingthat early adverse experience account for behavioral differences, we have found evidence for theirimpact on a neurophysiological level as well. These findings can be important to our understandingwhy some behavioral patterns seem to be more resistant to change than others. Still, due to thesomewhat exploratory nature of the study, replication of findings is needed.IV
ContentsAcknowledgements. IAbstract. IIContents. VTables . VIIFigures. IXChapter 1: The Role of Early Caregiving Experiences in Children’s Development . 11.1 Functions of Early Caregiver–Child Interactions. 31.2 Attachment as a Theoretical Framework . 61.3 A Neurodevelopmental View on Early Aversive Caregiving Experiences . 121.4 Foster Children as a High-Risk Sample . 191.5 Summary . 211.6 Aims and Scopes of the Doctoral Thesis . 22Chapter 2: Methodological Aspects of Children’s EEG and ERP in Psychological Research . 232.1 An Introduction to the Method . 232.2 EEG/ERP Data Collection and Reduction . 262.3 ERP Measures . 342.4 The ERP Approach in the Context of the Current Study. 34Chapter 3: Overview of the Current Study . 353.1 Outline of the Preceding Longitudinal Study . 353.2 Overview of Study Parameters . 363.3 Analysis of Behavioral and Neurophysiological Data . 41Chapter 4: Attachment and Social Interaction in Foster Children and a Control Group. 434.1 Theory . 444.2 Methods . 614.3 Results . 694.4 Discussion. 83Chapter 5: Neural Correlates of Facial Familiarity Processing in Foster Children and a ControlGroup . 965.1 Theory . 975.2 Methods . 1125.3 Results . 1195.4. Discussion. 133Chapter 6: General Discussion . 1496.1 Overview and integration of Main Findings . 1496.2 Concluding Remarks . 153V
Chapter 7: German Summary / Deutschsprachige Zusammenfassung . 1547.1 Titel . 1547.2 Theoretische Einleitung . 1547.3 Studiendesign und Methoden. 1567.4 Bindung und soziale Interaktion bei Pflegekindern und einer Kontrollgruppe. 1587.5 Neurophysiologische Korrelate der Gesichterverarbeitung bei Pflege- undKontrollkindern. 1607.6 Gesamtdiskussion. 162References .