Study finds how child abuse changes
Today The maltreated children and
soldiers may have adapted to become hyper-aware of danger in their environment: Research. -
Children exposed to family
violence show the same pattern of activity in their brains as soldiers exposed to combat, scientists said on Monday. In a
study in the journal Current
Biology, researchers used brain
scans to explore the impact of physical abuse or domestic violence on children’s emotional development and found that
exposure to it was linked to increased activity in two brain areas when children were shown pictures of angry faces.
Previous studies that scanned the
brains of soldiers exposed to violent combat situations showed the same pattern of heightened activity in these two brain
areas – the anterior insula and the amygdala – which experts say are associated with detecting potential threats.
This suggests that both maltreated
children and soldiers may have adapted to become “hyper-aware” of danger in their environment, the researchers
said. “Enhanced reactivity to a threat cue such as anger may represent an adaptive response for these children in the
short term, helping keep them out of danger,” said Eamon McCrory of Britain’s University College London, who led
the study. But he added that such responses may also be underlying neurobiological risk factor which increases the children’s
susceptibility to later mental illness like depression.
Depression is already a major cause
of mortality, disability, and economic burden worldwide and the World Health Organisation predicts that by 2020, it will be
the second leading contributor to the global burden of disease across all ages.
Childhood maltreatment is known
to be one of the most potent environmental risk factors linked to later mental health problems such as anxiety disorders and
A study published in August found
that found that people who suffered maltreatment as children were twice as likely as those who had normal childhoods to develop
persistent and recurrent depression, and less likely to respond well or quickly to treatment for their mental illness.
McCrory said still relatively little
is known about how such early adversity “gets under the skin and increases a child’s later vulnerability, even
into adulthood.” In the study, 43 children had their brains scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Twenty of the children who were known to have been exposed to violence at home were compared with 23 who had not experienced
The average age of the maltreated
children was 12 years and they had all been referred to local social services in London. When the children were in the scanner
they were shown pictures of male and female faces showing sad, calm or angry expressions. The researchers found that those
who had been exposed to violence showed increased brain activity in the anterior insula and amygdala in response to the angry
faces. “We are only now beginning to understand how child abuse influences functioning of the brain’s emotional