Early life stress (ELS), an important risk factor for psychopathology in mental disorders, is associated neuronally with decreased functional connectivity within the default mode network (DMN) in the resting state. Moreover, it is linked with greater deactivation in DMN during a working memory task. Although DMN shows large amplitudes of very-low-frequency oscillations (VLFO) and strong involvement during self-oriented tasks, these features' relation to ELS remains unclear. Therefore, our preliminary study investigated the relationship between ELS and the degree of frontal activations during a resting state and self-oriented task using near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS). From 22 healthy participants, regional hemodynamic changes in 43 front-temporal channels were recorded during 5 min resting states, and execution of a self-oriented task (color-preference judgment) and a control task (color-similarity judgment). Using a child abuse and trauma scale (CATS), ELS was quantified. We observed that ELS showed a negative correlation with medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) activation during both resting state and color-preference judgment. In contrast, no significant correlation was found between ELS and MPFC activation during color-similarity judgment. Additionally, we observed that ELS and the MPFC activation during color-preference judgment were associated behaviorally with the rate of similar color choice in preference judgment, which suggests that, for participants with higher ELS, decisions in the color-preference judgment were based on an external criterion (color similarity) rather than an internal criterion (subjective preference). Taken together, our neuronal and behavioral findings show that high ELS is related to lower MPFC activation during both rest and self-oriented tasks. This is behaviorally manifest in an abnormal shift from internally to externally guided decision-making, even under circumstances where internal guidance is required.
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