NeuroBind – Neuroimaging and Binding with Children-at-risk

Project Heads: T. Fischmann; Chr. Fiebach
Funded by the German Research Foundation - DFG (GZ: FI 2065/1-1) / Funding Amount: €71,440

Since 2015 / Project Head: Prof. Dr. Tamara Fischmann


Project Description

The aim of the NeuroBind research project is to investigate neural correlates of the childhood attachment system with structural and functional imaging (magnetic resonance imaging/MRI). Utilising boards on which various social situations are shown, the attachment system is activated in children between 9 and 10 years old in an fMRI scanner. The neuronal activations related to this are examined and compared with neuronal correlates of social experiences utilising a virtual ball game.

Over the last few years, there have been increasing calls from the general public and indeed from experts to intervene and support children as early as possible. In the EVA research project (link), we have assessed the effectiveness of two early intervention programmes, "FIRST STEPS" and "FISTLESS", provided in kindergartens in Frankfurt am Main. In a continuation of this study, we intend to deepen our understanding of the interconnections between the emotional development, the social skills of the child and brain functions. It is generally assumed that early childhood experiences impact not only on the behaviour but also on the functioning of the brain. The intention with the NeuroBind research project is to contribute to this understanding.

Empirical findings from attachment research have shown that the attachment quality in the early childhood development phase is accorded a decisive role for the structuring of subsequent cognitive, affective and social development processes in children. Furthermore, initial neurobiological studies have illustrated that early attachment experiences are not only significant for the subsequent behaviour, but also for the functioning of the brain as such. The NeuroBind research project intends to facilitate insights into this research question.

This study is examining the relation between brain processes and emotional reactions to various social situations with children. Children between 9 and 11 years old are being recruited for this purpose. Initially an attachment interview, the "Child Attachment Interview" (CAI), is conducted with each child. In order to record the relevant brain activities of the children utilising functional MRI, the children occupy themselves in a playful way with attachment-stimulating social interaction sequences. This permits the recording of spatially precise, localised brain activations as a reaction to attachment-relevant stimuli. Prior to the actual examination with the MRI scanner, a mock-up MRI scanner is utilised which imitates the real examination situation in terms of the sounds heard and the positioning in the tube, in order to prepare the children for the actual examination situation in the MRI.