University of Oulu

Saarinen, A., Keltikangas-Järvinen, L., Jääskeläinen, E., Huhtaniska, S., Pudas, J., Tovar-Perdomo, S., Penttilä, M., Miettunen, J., & Lieslehto, J. (2021). Early adversity and emotion processing from faces: A meta-analysis on behavioral and neurophysiological responses. Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, 6(7), 692–705.

Early adversity and emotion processing from faces : a meta-analysis on behavioral and neurophysiological responses

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Author: Saarinen, Aino1,2,3; Keltikangas-Järvinen, Liisa3; Jääskeläinen, Erika2,4,5;
Organizations: 1Research Unit of Psychology, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
2Center for Life Course Health Research, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
3Department of Psychology and Logopedics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
4Medical Research Center Oulu, Oulu University Hospital and University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
5Department of Psychiatry, Oulu University Hospital, Oulu, Finland
6Department of Radiology, Vaasa Central Hospital, Vaasa, Finland
7Research Unit of Clinical Neuroscience, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
8International Max Planck Research School for Translational Psychiatry, Munich, Germany
9PRONIA Research Group, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Ludwig-Maximilian University Hospital, Munich, Germany
10Department of Forensic Psychiatry, University of Eastern Finland, Niuvanniemi Hospital, Kuopio, Finland
Format: article
Version: accepted version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.3 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Elsevier, 2021
Publish Date: 2022-11-21


Background: Although the link between early adversity (EA) and later-life psychiatric disorders is well established, it has yet to be elucidated whether EA is related to distortions in the processing of different facial expressions. We conducted a meta-analysis to investigate whether exposure to EA relates to distortions in responses to different facial emotions at three levels: 1) event-related potentials of the P100 and N170, 2) amygdala functional magnetic resonance imaging responses, and 3) accuracy rate or reaction time in behavioral data.

Methods: The systematic literature search (PubMed and Web of Science) up to April 2020 resulted in 29 behavioral studies (n = 8555), 32 functional magnetic resonance imaging studies (n = 2771), and 3 electroencephalography studies (n = 197) for random-effect meta-analyses.

Results: EA was related to heightened bilateral amygdala reactivity to sad faces (but not other facial emotions). Exposure to EA was related to faster reaction time but a normal accuracy rate in response to angry and sad faces. In response to fearful and happy faces, EA was related to a lower accuracy rate only in individuals with recent EA exposure. This effect was more pronounced in individuals with exposure to EA before (vs. after) the age of 3 years. These findings were independent of psychiatric diagnoses. Because of the low number of eligible electroencephalography studies, no conclusions could be reached regarding the effect of EA on the event-related potentials.

Conclusions: EA relates to alterations in behavioral and neurophysiological processing of facial emotions. Our study stresses the importance of assessing age at exposure and time since EA because these factors mediate some EA-related perturbations.

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Series: Biological psychiatry. Cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging
ISSN: 2451-9022
ISSN-E: 2451-9030
ISSN-L: 2451-9022
Volume: 6
Issue: 7
Pages: 692 - 705
DOI: 10.1016/j.bpsc.2021.01.002
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 3124 Neurology and psychiatry
515 Psychology
Funding: The study was funded by grants from the Finnish Medical Association Grant No. 2393 (to JL), Yrjö Jahnsson’s Foundation Grant No. 20187087 (to JL), and Jalmari and Rauha Ahokas Foundation (to JL). The authors report no biomedical financial interests or potential conflicts of interest.
Copyright information: © 2021. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license