Cumulative stress in childhood is associated with blunted reward-related brain activity in adulthood.

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Early life stress (ELS) is strongly associated with negative outcomes in adulthood, including reduced motivation and increased negative mood. The mechanisms mediating these relations, however, are poorly understood. We examined the relation between exposure to ELS and reward-related brain activity, which is known to predict motivation and mood, at age 26, in a sample followed since kindergarten with annual assessments. Using functional neuroimaging, we assayed individual differences in the activity of the ventral striatum (VS) during the processing of monetary rewards associated with a simple card-guessing task, in a sample of 72 male participants. We examined associations between a cumulative measure of ELS exposure and VS activity in adulthood. We found that greater levels of cumulative stress during childhood and adolescence predicted lower reward-related VS activity in adulthood. Extending this general developmental pattern, we found that exposure to stress early in development (between kindergarten and grade 3) was significantly associated with variability in adult VS activity. Our results provide an important demonstration that cumulative life stress, especially during this childhood period, is associated with blunted reward-related VS activity in adulthood. These differences suggest neurobiological pathways through which a history of ELS may contribute to reduced motivation and increased negative mood.





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Hanson, JL, WD Albert, AR Iselin, JM Carré, KA Dodge and AR Hariri (2016). Cumulative stress in childhood is associated with blunted reward-related brain activity in adulthood. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci, 11(3). pp. 405–412. 10.1093/scan/nsv124 Retrieved from

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Kenneth A. Dodge

William McDougall Distinguished Professor of Public Policy Studies

Kenneth A. Dodge is the William McDougall Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University. He is also the founding and past director of the Center for Child and Family Policy, as well as the founder of Family Connects International

Dodge is a leading scholar in the development and prevention of aggressive and violent behaviors. His work provides a model for understanding how some young children grow up to engage in aggression and violence and provides a framework for intervening early to prevent the costly consequences of violence for children and their communities.

Dodge joined the faculty of the Sanford School of Public Policy in September 1998. He is trained as a clinical and developmental psychologist, having earned his B.A. in psychology at Northwestern University in 1975 and his Ph.D. in psychology at Duke University in 1978. Prior to joining Duke, Dodge served on the faculty at Indiana University, the University of Colorado, and Vanderbilt University.

Dodge's research has resulted in the Family Connects Program, an evidence-based, population health approach to supporting families of newborn infants. Piloted in Durham, NC, and formerly known as Durham Connects, the program attempts to reach all families giving birth in a community to assess family needs, intervene where needed, and connect families to tailored community resources. Randomized trials indicate the program's success in improving family connections to the community, reducing maternal depression and anxiety, and preventing child abuse. The model is currently expanding to many communities across the U.S.

Dodge has published more than 500 scientific articles which have been cited more than 120,000 times.

Elected into the National Academy of Medicine in 2015, Dodge has received many honors and awards, including the following:

  • President (Elected), Society for Research in Child Development
  • Fellow, Society for Prevention Research
  • Distinguished Scientist, Child Mind Institute
  • Research Scientist Award from the National Institutes of Health
  • Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution from the American Psychological Association
  • J.P. Scott Award for Lifetime Contribution to Aggression Research from the International Society for Research on Aggression
  • Science to Practice Award from the Society for Prevention Research
  • Inaugural recipient of the “Public Service Matters” Award from the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration
  • Inaugural recipient of the Presidential Citation Award for Excellence in Research from the Society for Research on Adolescence

Ahmad Hariri

Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

Integrating psychology, neuroimaging, pharmacology and molecular genetics in the search for biological pathways mediating individual differences in behavior and related risk for psychopathology.

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