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Cognitive and Brain Processes in Individuals with Childhood Interpersonal Trauma

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The goal of the present project is to understand the effects in early adulthood of interpersonal trauma experienced during childhood. In particular, the project will examine the hypothesis that long-lasting changes are observed in cognitive processes and the brain systems that support such processes as a result of childhood interpersonal trauma (CIT). The project has two specific aims. The first specific aim is to examine the hypothesis that neural systems involved in attentional control and in the selection of information in working memory will be compromised in individuals with a history of CIT (T+) as compared to those without (T-). In particular, the prediction is that individuals with a history of childhood interpersonal trauma will have a poorer ability to ignore distracting information, both of an emotional and non-emotional nature, and that this will be accompanied with reduced activity in regions of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex that are associated with top- down attentional control. An additional prediction is that individuals with a history of childhood interpersonal trauma will have a reduced ability to control the contents of working memory, especially when such information must be inhibited or "cleared" out. These effects will be accompanied by reduced activity in regions of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex associated with control over the contents of working memory. The second aim is to investigate the hypothesis that the compromise of functioning of these neural control mechanisms will increase with severity of symptomatology related to trauma. In particular, an increase in the degree of intrusive thoughts is predicted to be associated with more compromise of these cognitive functions and neural systems. There is one exploratory aim, which is to examine the hypothesis that individuals with a history of childhood interpersonal trauma as compared to those without will show alterations in brain anatomy, most notably in prefrontal regions and the corpus callosum. These hypotheses will be investigated in one study in which individuals will participate in two 1.25 hour sessions. The first session is designed to obtain information about the trauma history of the individual while also obtaining related information such as their degree of anxiety, worry, depression and intrusive thoughts. The second session involves functional and anatomical brain scanning. In this session individuals will perform two tasks, an attention task and a working memory task while their brain activity is assessed using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). In addition, a high- resolution anatomical scan and a diffusion tensor imaging scan will be obtained so that brain anatomy can be compared between the two groups and also related to symptomatology within the childhood interpersonal trauma (T+) group. The proposed research will provide information on how specific experiences (i.e., trauma) during the childhood period impact both cognitive and neural development. Such knowledge is critical for designing early intervention and treatments aimed at countering and ameliorating the effects of trauma.

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