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Positive Affect as a Moderator of Neural Threat Responding in Children

Presenters Name: 
Demitra Chavez
Co Presenters Name: 
Primary Research Mentor: 
Tobias Grossmann
Secondary Research Mentor: 
Cat Thrasher
9:30 - 10:15
Time of Presentation: 
2019 - 9:30am to 10:15am
Newcomb Hall Ballroom
Presentation Type: 
Presentations Academic Category: 
Social Science
Grant Program Recipient: 
Double Hoo Research Grant

Human social relationships and connections have been shown to assist in long-term emotional, physiological, and behavioral health. While interpersonal touch has been studied as a moderator of these effects, less work has examined how it helps older children neurally regulate responses to threat. The current study investigated how caregiver interpersonal touch impacted children’s positive affect, and whether this change in positive affect moderated neural threat responding as measured by electroencephalography (EEG). Participants were 16 competitive female gymnasts, 8-13 years old, and their primary caregivers (14 mothers, 2 fathers) who completed an event-related potential (ERP) task and a battery of questionnaires regarding relationship quality. During the hand-holding condition, children watched happy and angry emotional stimuli while holding their caregiver’s hand. They watched the same presentation a second time without touching their caregiver. Caregivers were found to display more positive affect while holding their child’s hand compared to the no-touch condition. Furthermore, children who smiled more during the hand-holding condition responded to angry faces with greater ERP negativity in occipital brain regions than those who smiled less. Based on previous literature, this suggests that children who smiled longer saw the faces as more threatening than those who smiled less during caregiver hand-holding. However, further research needs to be done to explain these findings.