Affective Facial Expression Processing in 15-Month-Old Infants Who Have Experienced Maltreatment: An Event-Related Potential Study

W. John Curtis, Dante Cicchetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


This study examined the neural correlates of facial affect processing in 15 month-old maltreated and nonmaltreated infants. Event-related potentials (ERPs) were elicited while infants passively viewed standardized pictures of female models posing angry, happy, and neutral facial expressions. Differences between maltreated (N = 25) and nonmaltreated (N = 20) infants were observed on three ERP components: P1, P260, and Nc. The results for the P260 waveform were consistent with previous ERP findings in older maltreated children, showing a hyperresponsivity to angry facial affect relative to happy in maltreated infants. However, the findings for the P1 and Nc indicated a hyperresponsivity to relative affective novelty, whereby the maltreated infants had greater amplitude in response to happy facial affect, whereas nonmaltreated infants had greater responsivity to angry faces. The results provided further support for the hypothesis that the experience of maltreatment and the predominantly negative emotional tone in maltreating families alters the functioning of neural systems associated with the processing of facial emotion. In particular, the findings suggested that at this early stage in the development of facial affect recognition, novelty of facial emotion is especially salient. These results exemplify the importance of early preventive interventions focused on emotion for children who have experienced maltreatment early in life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)140-154
Number of pages15
JournalChild Maltreatment
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship and/or publication of this article: This research was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH54643) and the Spunk Fund, Inc. to Dante Cicchetti.


  • child maltreatment
  • emotion
  • event-related potentials
  • face processing


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