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Childhood trauma is associated with increased brain responses to emotionally negative as compared with positive faces in patients with psychotic disorders

  • M. Aas (a1) (a2), K. Kauppi (a1) (a2), C. L. Brandt (a1) (a2), M. Tesli (a1) (a2), T. Kaufmann (a1) (a2), N. E. Steen (a1) (a2) (a3), I. Agartz (a1) (a2) (a4), L. T. Westlye (a1) (a2) (a5), O. A. Andreassen (a1) (a2) and I. Melle (a1) (a2)...



Childhood trauma increases risk of a range of mental disorders including psychosis. Whereas the mechanisms are unclear, previous evidence has implicated atypical processing of emotions among the core cognitive models, in particular suggesting altered attentional allocation towards negative stimuli and increased negativity bias. Here, we tested the association between childhood trauma and brain activation during emotional face processing in patients diagnosed with psychosis continuum disorders. In particular, we tested if childhood trauma was associated with the differentiation in brain responses between negative and positive face stimuli. We also tested if trauma was associated with emotional ratings of negative and positive faces.


We included 101 patients with a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) schizophrenia spectrum or bipolar spectrum diagnosis. History of childhood trauma was obtained using the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire. Brain activation was measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging during presentation of faces with negative or positive emotional expressions. After the scanner session, patients performed emotional ratings of the same faces.


Higher levels of total childhood trauma were associated with stronger differentiation in brain responses to negative compared with positive faces in clusters comprising the right angular gyrus, supramarginal gyrus, middle temporal gyrus and the lateral occipital cortex (Cohen's d = 0.72–0.77). In patients with schizophrenia, childhood trauma was associated with reporting negative faces as more negative, and positive faces as less positive (Cohen's d > 0.8).


Along with the observed negativity bias in the assessment of emotional valence of faces, our data suggest stronger differentiation in brain responses between negative and positive faces with higher levels of trauma.


Corresponding author

*Address for correspondence: M. Aas, Ph.D., Division of Mental Health and Addiction, NORMENT, K.G. Jebsen Psychosis Research Centre, Institute of Clinical Medicine, Bygg 49, Oslo University Hospital, PO Box 4956 Nydalen, 0424 Oslo, Norway. (Email:


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