Interpersonal early life trauma (I‐ELT) is associated with a myriad of functional impairments in adulthood, increased risk of drug addiction, and neuropsychiatric disorders. While deficits in emotional regulation and amygdala functioning are well characterized, deficits in general cognitive functioning have also been documented. However, the neural underpinnings of cognitive dysfunction in adults with a history of I‐ELT and the potential relationship between amygdala‐based functional connectivity and behavioral performance are currently poorly understood. This study examined how I‐ELT affects the cognitive and neural mechanisms supporting sustained attention.
A total of 66 Veterans (18 with and 48 without a history of I‐ELT) completed a nonemotional sustained attention task during functional MRI.
The individuals with I‐ELT showed significant impairments in sustained attention (i.e., higher error rates, greater response variability). This cohort exhibited increased amygdala functional connectivity with the prefrontal cortex and decreased functional connectivity with the parahippocampal gyrus when compared to those without I‐ELT. These connections were significantly correlated with individual differences in sustained attention performance. Notably, classification analyses revealed that the pattern of amygdala connectivity across the whole brain was able to classify I‐ELT status with 70% accuracy.
These results provide evidence of a lasting negative impact for those with a history of I‐ELT on sustained attention ability. They also highlight a critical role for amygdala functioning in cognitive control and sustained attention for those with a history of I‐ELT, which may underlie the observed attention deficits in clinical assessments and cognitive tests involving both emotional and nonemotional stimuli.