Childhood maltreatment may affect brain development, study finds

Children who have been victims of abuse may suffer long-term psychological effects well into adulthood. But now, a new study shows that the effects of abuse can be physiological as well.

People who had been subjected to maltreatment during childhood actually had less volume in certain parts of their brains, according to a new study released Monday by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School in Boston studied 193 adults aged 25 and younger, and interviewed them to see whether they had been subject to a variety of different types of abuse, from ‘harsh corporal punishment’ down to ‘parental verbal aggression.’ They scanned the subjects with an MRI machine to see what their brains looked like.

As it turned out, those who had suffered maltreatment during childhood had 5.8% to 6.5% less volume in certain key parts of the hippocampus, which is involved in memory and emotion.


Previous research has shown that the still-developing hippocampus can be susceptible to stress at an early age, the authors point out – making childhood abuse a potential factor for the fundamental changes in the brains of the adults they examined.

Based on the parts of the brain affected, childhood maltreatment could potentially be linked to risk for drug addiction and psychosis later in life, the authors explain.

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