Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology & Neuroscience

First Advisor

Marie T. Banich

Second Advisor

Anne P. DePrince

Third Advisor

Sona Dimidjian

Abstract

Multiple studies have demonstrated that childhood interpersonal trauma, a traumatic event purposefully perpetrated by one person against another, is associated with many negative factors in young adulthood. Although many studies have demonstrated that cognitive processes may be affected by a history of childhood interpersonal trauma, few studies have examined the neural underpinnings of these effects. Development of the prefrontal cortex is now considered to continue into the mid-20's, with these regions of the brain being involved in cognitive control. Therefore, we investigated whether activation of networks recruited for cognitive control is altered in young women with a history of childhood interpersonal trauma. We specifically examined hypotheses that cognitive control networks related to inhibition and guiding attention in the face of distracting information would be altered in two different tasks. A total of 27 young women (age 22 - 30), 13 with a history of childhood interpersonal trauma and 14 with no history of trauma, completed a working memory task and a modified Stroop task while in an fMRI scanner. For the purposes of this study, childhood interpersonal trauma consisted of childhood physical or sexual abuse and/or assault occurring before the age of 17. Results of this study suggest alterations in cognitive control mechanisms underlying both inhibiting and maintaining previous representations in working memory in women with a history of childhood interpersonal trauma. Additionally, it suggests women with a history of childhood interpersonal trauma have difficulty maintaining an internally-generated task-set and attend to and process information in the environment to help reinforce task-relevant processing. Alterations in these processes were associated with symptom severity. These findings support the proposal that trauma-exposed individuals demonstrate enhanced attentional allocation to environmental stimuli in order to guide cognitive control of attention, as well as decreased inhibitory networks supporting inhibition of information that is no longer task-relevant. The impact of limitations and how they might affect interpretations are also explored.

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