Date of Degree
Ahmed Duke Shereen
Behavioral Neurobiology | Child Psychology | Developmental Psychology
child development, prenatal stress, temperament, electrodermal activity, fMRI
Rising prevalence of childhood psychopathology mandate investigation into the antecedents of symptom onset. Growing evidence shows prenatal maternal stress experienced in utero is a strong contributor to offspring neurodevelopmental deficits, including emotion dysregulation, a core feature of many types of psychopathology. This dissertation summarizes a body of work studying children prenatally exposed to maternal stress related to a natural disaster, Superstorm Sandy (i.e., storm stress). This work includes six experiments conducted in the framework of the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) hypothesis. The DOHaD hypothesis posits that developmental disruptions, like storm stress exposure, during a critical period of developmental, like gestation, can have long term influences on health. The first experiment explores infant behavioral temperament and shows correlations between objective stressors related to the storm and poor regulation and negative affect. Experiment 2 demonstrates that associations between temperament and a sympathetic nervous system measure, electrodermal activity (EDA), vary by child sex. Experiment 3 shows that prenatal storm stress is associated with increased EDA in girls, and decreased EDA in boys. Experiment 4 describes an interaction between prenatal storm stress and maternal depression predicting blunted offspring EDA in early childhood. Experiments 5 and 6 present preliminary findings that children prenatally exposed to storm stress exhibit differential prefrontal-limbic structure and amygdala function, respectively. Future work should expand the current sample, which was hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic, consider maternal mental health history in more depth, and continue to follow the trajectory of neurodevelopment of children affected by Superstorm Sandy. The vulnerability of pregnant people and their children, and how they can best be supported in the face of widespread disasters, needs to be more thoroughly studied as well. This knowledge may inform public health officials and mental health professionals in best practices to mitigate the impact of stressors, especially during pregnancy, and improve psychological wellbeing and optimal neurodevelopment in vulnerable people.
Buthmann, Jessica L., "Early Emotion Regulation in the Children of Superstorm Sandy" (2021). CUNY Academic Works.