Maternal anxiety during pregnancy can negatively affect fetal neurodevelopment, predisposing the offspring to a higher risk of behavioral and emotional problems later in life. The current study investigates the association between maternal anxiety during pregnancy and child affective picture processing using event-related brain potentials (ERPs). Mothers reported anxiety during the second trimester using the anxiety subscale of the Symptom Checklist (SCL-90). At age 4 years, child affective picture processing (N = 86) was measured by recording ERPs during viewing of neutral, pleasant, and unpleasant pictures selected from the International Affective Pictures System. The late positive potential (LPP)-an ERP component reflecting individual differences in affective processing-was used as child outcome. The expected positive association between maternal anxiety and LPP amplitude for unpleasant pictures was not found. Nevertheless, we found a positive association between maternal anxiety during pregnancy and LPP amplitudes for neutral pictures in the middle and late time window at anterior locations (all p < .05). These associations remained significant after adjusting for maternal postnatal anxiety and gestational age at birth and after FDR correction for multiple comparisons. Our study provides neurophysiological evidence that children prenatally exposed to higher maternal anxiety devote more attentional resources to neutral pictures, but not to unpleasant pictures. Possibly, these children show enhanced vigilance for threat when viewing neutral pictures. Although useful in dangerous environments, this enhanced vigilance may predispose children prenatally exposed to higher maternal anxiety to developing behavioral and/or emotional problems later in life.
- NEURAL RESPONSES
- SELECTIVE ATTENTION