Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 45, Issue 5, pp 857–869 | Cite as

ADHD Symptoms in Post-Institutionalized Children Are Partially Mediated by Altered Frontal EEG Asymmetry

  • Tahl I. Frenkel
  • Kalsea J. Koss
  • Bonny Donzella
  • Kristin A. Frenn
  • Connie Lamm
  • Nathan A. Fox
  • Megan R. Gunnar


Individual differences in the propensity for left versus right frontal electroencephalogram (EEG) asymmetry may underlie differences in approach/withdrawal tendencies and mental health deficits. Growing evidence suggests that early life adversity may shape brain development and contribute to the emergence of mental health problems. The present study examined frontal EEG asymmetry (FEA) following the transition to family care in children adopted internationally from institutional care settings between 15 and 36 months of age (N = 82; 46 female, 36 male). Two comparison groups were included: an international adoption control consisting of children adopted from foster care with little to no institutional deprivation (N = 45; 17 female, 28 male) and a post-adoption condition control consisting of children reared in birth families of the same education and income as the adoptive families (N = 48; 23 female, 25 male). Consistent with evidence of greater approach and impulsivity-related behavior problems in post-institutionalized (PI) children, PI status was associated with greater left FEA than found in the other two groups. In addition, left FEA served as a mediator between institutionalization and age 5 ADHD symptoms for girls. Age at adoption and other preadoption factors were examined with results suggesting that earlier adoption into a supportive family resulted in a more typical pattern of brain functioning. Findings support the idea that the capacity of brain activity to evidence typical functioning following perturbation may differ in relation to the timing of intervention and suggest that the earlier the intervention of adoption, the better.


Frontal electroencephalogram asymmetry Early adversity Adoption Attention problems 



This work was supported by grants R01 MH080905 and P50 MH78105 from the National Institute of Mental Health awarded to Megan Gunnar. Support was also provided to Kalsea Koss by a National Institute of Mental Health training grant (T32 MH018921) during the preparation of this manuscript. The authors would like to thank Samuel Thorpe for his assistance with the MATLAB EEG processing script as well as the members of the Minnesota International Adoption Project team for their efforts in collecting these data including Bao Moua and Alyssa Miller. The authors are grateful to the parents and children for their participation in this project.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in this study involving human subjects were approved by the university’s institutional review board and are in accordance with the ethical standards of the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all parents included in this study.

Supplementary material

10802_2016_208_MOESM1_ESM.docx (18 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 17 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tahl I. Frenkel
    • 1
  • Kalsea J. Koss
    • 2
  • Bonny Donzella
    • 3
  • Kristin A. Frenn
    • 3
  • Connie Lamm
    • 4
  • Nathan A. Fox
    • 5
  • Megan R. Gunnar
    • 3
  1. 1.Ziama Arkin Infancy InstituteBaruch Ivcher School of Psychology, Interdisciplinary Center HerzliyaHerzliyaIsrael
  2. 2.Vanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA
  3. 3.Institute of Child DevelopmentUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  4. 4.University of ArkansasFayettevilleUSA
  5. 5.University of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

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