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ABC intervention may improve children’s social cognitive development

12 Sep 2020

Early parenting intervention, particularly the Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-Up (ABC), has been shown to enhance brain regions that support children’s social cognitive development, according to a recent study.

“Early adversity is correlated with increased risk for negative outcomes, including psychopathology and atypical neurodevelopment,” the investigators said.

Sixty-eight participants (mean age, 10.0 years) were included in this study. Parents of 46 high-risk children were randomized to receive either the ABC (n=22) or a control intervention (n=24) while the children were infants. A comparison sample of 22 low-risk children were also enrolled. Then, children were prompted to view pictures of their own mothers and of a stranger during functional magnetic resonance imaging scanning.

Maternal cue-related activation was greater among children in the ABC condition than among those in the control condition. Such activation occurred in clusters of brain regions, including the precuneus, the cingulate gyrus, and the hippocampus, regions commonly associated with social cognition. Heightened activity in these regions also correlated with fewer total behaviour problems.

In addition, early intervention showed an indirect impact on middle childhood psychosocial functioning mediated through increased activity in brain regions in response to maternal cues.

“[T]he findings highlight these brain effects as a possible neural pathway through which ABC may prevent future behaviour problems among high-risk children, yielding psychosocial benefits that endure through at least middle childhood without the need to intervene with the child directly,” according to the investigators.

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