Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Psychological and Brain Sciences

Degree Program

Experimental Psychology, PhD

Committee Chair

Depue, Brendan

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

DeMarco, Paul

Committee Member

DeMarco, Paul

Committee Member

Cashon, Cara

Committee Member

Hindy, Nicholas

Author's Keywords

childhood trauma; resilience; fear processing; protective factors; neuroimaging


Childhood trauma is an alarming public health crisis, and the field of trauma research is relatively underdeveloped given population rates of childhood trauma and post-trauma pathology. Even less studied than the impacts of trauma are the impacts of resilience, and the protective factors that foster it. It is widely acknowledged that an investigation of trauma is incomplete without an investigation of its impacts on fear processing. Understanding the neural underpinnings of resilience to childhood trauma during fear conditioning is vital to the development of therapeutic interventions able to moderate its devastating impacts. The present study investigated the complex neurobiological interplay between childhood traumatic stress and resilience using a fear acquisition, extinction, and reinstatement fMRI paradigm. 30 participants participated in this experiment and provided data on traumatic and benevolent childhood experiences and their self-perceived ability to cope with stressors. These questionnaires were analyzed alongside neural data and task performance metrics (accuracy and fear ratings), with behavioral results largely validating the efficacy and expected outcomes of the task design, notably highlighting the neutralization of fear responses during the extinction phase and suggesting that fear extinction may expedite future fear judgments. Neuroimaging results revealed anticipated functional connectivity patterns during fear acquisition between frontal, limbic, and sensory regions, which diminished during extinction and reemerged during reinstatement. Increases and decreases in connectivity were observed corresponding with trauma and protective factor scores, though interestingly, not with resilience scores, underscoring the poorly-defined nature of resilience. Neurobehavioral analyses revealed significant predictive power of childhood trauma levels on frontal-hippocampal and visual-hippocampal connectivity. The findings from this study may have implications for the development of targeted interventions to enhance resilience in individuals who have experienced childhood traumatic stress. This research highlights the importance of exploring the relationship between the detrimental impacts of childhood trauma and the protective role of resilience in studying the neural correlates of fear processing, and emphasizes the need for further research incorporating larger, more diverse samples and more nuanced measurement tools.