Children who have experienced chronic parental rejection and exclusion during childhood, as is the case in childhood emotional maltreatment, may become especially sensitive to social exclusion. This study investigated the neural and emotional responses to social exclusion (with the Cyberball task) in young adults reporting childhood emotional maltreatment. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we investigated brain responses and self-reported distress to social exclusion in 46 young adult patients and healthy controls (mean age = 19.2±2.16) reporting low to extreme childhood emotional maltreatment. Consistent with prior studies, social exclusion was associated with activity in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex. In addition, severity of childhood emotional maltreatment was positively associated with increased dorsal medial prefrontal cortex responsivity to social exclusion. The dorsal medial prefrontal cortex plays a crucial role in self-and other-referential processing, suggesting that the more individuals have been rejected and maltreated in childhood, the more self- and other- processing is elicited by social exclusion in adulthood. Negative self-referential thinking, in itself, enhances cognitive vulnerability for the development of psychiatric disorders. Therefore, our findings may underlie the emotional and behavioural difficulties that have been reported in adults reporting childhood emotional maltreatment. © 2014 van Harmelen et al.
Van Harmelen, A. L., Hauber, K., Moor, B. G., Spinhoven, P., Boon, A. E., Crone, E. A., & Elzinga, B. M. (2014). Childhood emotional maltreatment severity is associated with dorsal medial prefrontal cortex responsivity to social exclusion in young adults. PLoS ONE, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0085107