Emotional face processing in institutionalized children
: addressing the role of epigenetic mechanisms and quality of relational context

  • Beatriz Andion Boullosa Perry da Câmara (Student)

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Facial emotional expressions can be considered one of the most important stimuli in order to correctly process and interpret social interactions. The development of this capacity is highly sensitive to early socioemotional experiences and quality of care received.Institutionalization has been consistently associated with negative developmental consequences,namely in socioemotional outcomes and capacity to correctly differentiate and recognize facialemotional expressions. Even though the mechanisms mediating these effects are still unknown,animal research has recently pointed out epigenetic changes as a plausible involved factor in this mediation. The current study examined the effects of institutionalization on brain-based markers of face processing in 69 institutionalized Portuguese children (Mage= 56.58 months, SD = 10.96).We looked for associations between the methylation profile variations of the NR3C1 gene in institutionalized children and their exposure to pre-institutionalization adverse experiences and current institutional quality of care. Furthermore, we explore whether exposure to such adverse experiences and differences in the quality of care received in the institution modulated the child’sneural response (measured through Event Related Potentials, ERPs) to caregiver’s happy andangry faces. Our results show that children who experienced neglect and lack of habitationalconditions previously to institutionalization have an hypomethylation of the NR3C1 gene. Resultsshow that neglected children and children who experienced lack of habitational conditions before institution have an hypomethylation of the NR3C1 gene, and that quality of care received at the institutions does not influence NR3C1 gene methylation profile. Regarding the neuronal processing of emotional faces, neglected children showed differences for the N170 component,whereas children exposed to lack of habitational conditions showed differences for the P400 component. Children who received better quality of care in the institution revealed significantdifferences for the P100, N170, P400 and P250 components
Date of Award17 Dec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Universidade Católica Portuguesa
SupervisorFilipa Ribeiro (Supervisor) & Ana Mesquita (Co-Supervisor)


  • Institutionalization
  • Emotional processing
  • NR3C1
  • Epigenetics


  • Mestrado em Neuropsicologia

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