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Early institutionalized care disrupts the development of emotion processing in prosody

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 February 2021

Lisa K. Chinn
Department of Psychology, University of Houston, Houston, TX, USA
Irina Ovchinnikova
Department of Psychology, University of Houston, Houston, TX, USA
Anastasia A. Sukmanova
Laboratory of Translational Sciences of Human Development, St Petersburg State University, St Petersburg, Russia
Aleksandra O. Davydova
Laboratory of Translational Sciences of Human Development, St Petersburg State University, St Petersburg, Russia
Elena L. Grigorenko*
Department of Psychology, University of Houston, Houston, TX, USA Laboratory of Translational Sciences of Human Development, St Petersburg State University, St Petersburg, Russia Department of Molecular and Human Genetics, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, USA Child Study Center and Haskins Laboratories, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA
Author for Correspondence: Elena L. Grigorenko, 4849 Calhoun Rd Rm 373 Health 1 Building/TIMES Houston, Tx77004; E-mail:


Millions of children worldwide are raised in institutionalized settings. Unfortunately, institutionalized rearing is often characterized by psychosocial deprivation, leading to difficulties in numerous social, emotional, physical, and cognitive skills. One such skill is the ability to recognize emotional facial expressions. Children with a history of institutional rearing tend to be worse at recognizing emotions in facial expressions than their peers, and this deficit likely affects social interactions. However, emotional information is also conveyed vocally, and neither prosodic information processing nor the cross-modal integration of facial and prosodic emotional expressions have been investigated in these children to date. We recorded electroencephalograms (EEG) while 47 children under institutionalized care (IC) (n = 24) or biological family care (BFC) (n = 23) viewed angry, happy, or neutral facial expressions while listening to pseudowords with angry, happy, or neutral prosody. The results indicate that 20- to 40-month-olds living in IC have event-related potentials (ERPs) over midfrontal brain regions that are less sensitive to incongruent facial and prosodic emotions relative to children under BFC, and that their brain responses to prosody are less lateralized. Children under IC also showed midfrontal ERP differences in processing of angry prosody, indicating that institutionalized rearing may specifically affect the processing of anger.

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Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press.

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