Amygdala reactivity to sad faces in preschool children: An early neural marker of persistent negative affect

Michael S. Gaffrey, Deanna M. Barch, Joan L. Luby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Scopus citations


Background Elevated negative affect is a highly salient risk factor for later internalizing disorders. Very little is known about the early neurobiological correlates of negative affect and whether they associate with developmental changes in negative emotion. Such information may prove critical for identifying children deviating from normative developmental trajectories of negative affect and at increased risk for later internalizing disorders. The current study examined the relationship between amygdala activity and negative affect measured concurrently and approximately 12 months later in preschool-age children. Method Amygdala activity was assessed using functional magnetic resonance imaging in 31 medication-naive preschool age children. Negative affect was measured using parent report both at the time of scan and 12 months later. Results Negative affect at baseline was positively correlated with right amygdala activity to sad faces, right amygdala activity to happy faces, and left amygdala activity to happy faces. Right amygdala activity to sad faces also positively predicted parent-reported negative affect 12 months later even when negative affect reported at baseline was controlled. Conclusions The current findings provide preliminary evidence for amygdala activity as a potential biomarker of persistent negative affect during early childhood and suggest future work examining the origins and long-term implications of this relationship is necessary.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)94-100
Number of pages7
JournalDevelopmental Cognitive Neuroscience
StatePublished - Feb 2016


  • Amygdala
  • Child
  • Development
  • Irritability
  • Negative affect
  • fMRI

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