Violence Exposure and Brain Development in Children

Brief Description: 
In this study, we want to learn more about how exposure to violence impacts brain development in children and adolescents. Traumatic events, including violence exposure, are relatively common experiences for children and adolescents, but we have much to learn about how trauma impacts brain development. By understanding how trauma influences brain development in children, we hope to improve our ability to intervene effectively to help children and adolescents recover from adverse events.
Eligibility for Participation: 
We are recruiting children and teenagers, ages 8-16 years old. Because the study involves an MRI scan, children and adolescents who have braces, hair extensions, or certain types of metal implants may not be eligible to participate.
Participation Details: 
This study involves 3 visits. In the first visit, the child/adolescent and parent/guardian will complete several demographic questionnaires. Additionally, the child/teenager will complete behavioral tasks that examine emotion and learning. In the second visit, the child/adolescent and parent/guardian will complete several interviews that ask about stressful experiences, family dynamics, and patterns of thoughts and behaviors. The child/adolescent will also be trained on the tasks that they will complete during their third study session at the MRI scanner. In the third visit, the child/adolescent will complete an MRI scan at the University of Washington Medical Center. Participants will be in the scanner for 75-90 minutes and complete several emotion regulation tasks while in the scanner. Each session is fun, and participants receive rewards, snacks, and time for a break during each of the session. Free parking is provided for all sessions, and children/teenagers can earn up to $165 and parents can earn up to $85 for participation.
Full Description: 
Exposure to violence is associated with elevated risk for a wide range of mental health problems in children and adolescents, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Despite the consistency of evidence linking child trauma to the onset of mental health problems, the neurodevelopmental mechanisms that underlie these associations remain poorly understood. The development of effective and efficient preventive interventions requires a better understanding of the specific developmental processes that are disrupted as a result of child trauma exposure and how those disruptions ultimately lead to psychopathology. In the current study, we examine how exposure to violence influences brain regions involved in emotional learning and emotion regulation. We are interested in how violence exposure influences attention to emotional cues in the environment, emotional learning, discrimination of threat and safety cues, and the ability to modulate emotional reactions. To study these questions, children and adolescents along with a parent/guardian will first be invited to our lab at the University of Washington to complete interviews, surveys, and behavioral tasks. Some participants will also complete an MRI scan at the Diagnostic Imaging Sciences Center at the University of Washington Medical School. This study is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (R01-MH03291) to Dr. McLaughlin.
Margaret Sheridan, Ph.D.; Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School Natalia Kleinhans, Ph.D.; University of Washington
Research Contact: 
If your child is interested in participating, please e-mail Debbie Bitran at or call (206) 543-5183.
$165 (child), $85 (parent)
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