Individual differences in sensitivity to the early environment as a function of amygdala and hippocampus volumes: An exploratory analysis in 12-year-old boys

Pluess, Michael; De Brito, Stephane A.; Jones Bartoli, Alice; McCrory, Eamon and Viding, Essi. 2022. Individual differences in sensitivity to the early environment as a function of amygdala and hippocampus volumes: An exploratory analysis in 12-year-old boys. Development and Psychopathology, 34(3), pp. 901-910. ISSN 0954-5794 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Children differ in their response to environmental exposures, with some being more sensitive to contextual factors than others. According to theory, such variability is the result of individual differences in neurobiological sensitivity to environmental features, with some individuals generally more affected by both negative and/or positive experiences. In this exploratory study we tested whether left and right amygdala and hippocampus volumes (corrected for total brain size) account for individual differences in response to environmental influences in a sample of 62 boys. Cumulative general environmental quality, ranging from low to high, was measured across the first 9 years and child behavior was reported by teachers when boys were 12–13 years old. According to analyses, only the left amygdala volume – not any of the other brain volumes – emerged as an important brain region for sensitivity to positive environmental aspects. Boys with a larger left amygdala benefited significantly more from higher environmental quality than boys with a smaller left amygdala whilst not being more vulnerable to lower quality. Besides providing preliminary evidence for differences in environmental sensitivity due to brain structure, the results also point to the left amygdala as having a specific role regarding the response to environmental influences.

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This article has been published in a revised form in Development and Psychopathology []. This version is published under a Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND. No commercial re-distribution or re-use allowed. Derivative works cannot be distributed. © The Author(s), 2020.

We gratefully acknowledge the ongoing contribution of the participants in TEDS and their families. TEDS is supported by a program grant to Robert Plomin from the UK Medical Research Council [MR/M021475/1; and previously G0901245], with additional support from the US National Institutes of Health [HD044454; HD059215; AG046903] and the European Commission [602768]. Collection of the neuroimaging data reported here was supported by grant G0401170 from the Medical Research Council and grant MRD 12-73 from the UK Department of Health Forensic Mental Health Programme awarded to Essi Viding. Stephane De Brito was supported by an advanced research fellowship from the Swiss National Science Foundation (FNS PA00P1_139586).


Differential Susceptibility; Vantage Sensitivity; Environmental Sensitivity; Amygdala; Hippocampus

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21 December 2020Published Online
August 2022Published

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09 Jul 2021 08:49

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15 Aug 2022 13:57

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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