The impact of social experience on neurobiological systems: Illustration from a constructivist view of child maltreatment

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In this article, I highlight the discipline of developmental psychopathology as an integrative framework that builds upon the historical underpinnings of a constructivist perspective. After presenting illustrative developmental psychopathology principles that I consider to be central to a constructivist view, I turn my attention to the role of experience on brain development. This serves as the entree into a discussion of research conducted with maltreated children on brain event-related potentials (ERPs) and the cognitive processing of emotional stimuli, neuroendocrine functioning, and acoustic startle. Each of these components of brain functioning serve to underscore how different neurobiological systems reflect theway in which individuals ascribe meaning to traumatic experiences. Research on child maltreatment, an "experiment of nature," reveals that maltreated children actively construct their reality at both the biological and psychological levels of analysis, at least in part based on the meaning these children impute to their caregiving experiences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1407-1428
Number of pages22
JournalCognitive Development
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Sep 2002
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The writing of this paper, and the work reported herein, were supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the Administration for Children Youth and Families (MH54643) and from the Spunk Fund, Inc. I am extremely grateful to John Curtis for his comments on this paper and to the children and families who participated in this research. Words cannot do justice to the impact that Candace Cicchetti has had on my thinking in this area. She has been a tremendous source of inspiration.


  • Caregiving
  • Child maltreatment
  • Neurobiological


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