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Date of Award

2015

Degree Type

Dissertation (On-Campus Access Only)

Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)

Committee Chair

Michael Daniel, Chair

Abstract

Accurate detection of facial expressions of emotion is a key developmental task for adolescents and a core component of healthy interpersonal functioning. There have been rapid advances in our understanding of the brain regions involved in emotion recognition, and a growing interest in identifying how white matter microstructure is shaped by our social environment. While social-emotional stimuli such as affective valence is likely to influence responses to facial expressions, the relationship between emotion recognition skills and white matter microstructural integrity during adolescence is poorly understood. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between performance on positively and negatively valenced emotion recognition tasks and association fiber tracts that connect vision and emotion-related brain regions in healthy youth. A sample of 44 adolescents, aged 12-16 years old (45% female), were tested on their recognition of six basic emotional facial expressions. The results suggest that the right IFOF and right SLF may be critical components of the neural systems involved in the recognition of the facial expression of emotion. Further, the current findings linked reduced FA in the left arcuate fasciculus with impaired recognition of negatively valenced emotions. These findings are discussed in light of their clinical implications in terms of addressing the social aspect of emotion recognition in future research and understanding how alterations in the development of white matter microstructure may mediate risk for affective disorders in vulnerable youth.

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