Modifications des processus cognitifs et émotionnels, et de la fonction cérébrale après une agression sexuelle

  • Santé-Sciences-Technologie,

du 8 avril 2018 au 15 avril 2018

Projet de recherche collaborative dirigé par le Prof. Wissam El-Hage

Neurocognitive, emotional and neuroendocrine correlates of exposure to sexual assault in women


Survivors of sexual assault are vulnerable to long-term negative psychological and physical health outcomes, but few studies have investigated changes in cognition, emotional processing and brain function in the early stages after sexual assault. We used a multimodal approach to identify the cognitive and emotional correlates associated with sexual assault in women.


Twenty-seven female survivors of sexual assault were included within 4 weeks of the traumatic event, and they were compared with 20 age-matched controls. Participants underwent functional MRI while performing cognitive/emotional tasks (n-back, emotional go/no-go, mental imagery). We also measured diurnal salivary cortisol and conducted neuropsychological assessments of attention and memory abilities.


Relative to the control group, the survivors group had lower levels of morning cortisol and showed attentional deficits. We observed no between-group differences in brain activation during the n-back or mental imagery tasks. During the emotional go/no-go task, however, the survivors group showed a lack of deactivation in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex when processing emotional material, relative to neutral material. Exploratory analyses in the survivors group indicated that symptom severity was negatively associated with cerebellar activation when positive emotional (happy) content interfered with response inhibition, and positively associated with cerebellar activation when thinking of positive (happy) memories.


The small sample size was the main limitation of this study.


Dysfunctions in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and the cerebellum may represent early functional brain modifications that alter higher cognitive processes when emotional material is involved.
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