Family Violence Is Risk Factor For Psychological Disorders Later In Life
Scientists at the University College of London (UCL) and the Anna Freud Center liken the impact of family violence on the brains of children to the brains of soldiers exposed to combat. Both kinds of combat result in hypersensitivity to danger and put subjects at risk for developing anxiety disorders.
Reportedly, this research is the first to investigate the impact of family violence on the brains of children in the midst of it. The studies were accomplished through use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
The subjects were 42 children, 23 who had been exposed to family violence. All children were asked to identify faces of males and females who had sad, calm, or angry expressions. The children identified only the gender of the face, not the facial expression, but the scan depicted their brains' responses to the faces. For those children exposed to family violence, the anterior insula and the amygdala were stimulated when they viewed angry faces. These are the same areas of the brain that are stimulated in combat soldiers during similar fMRIs and the same areas that are implicated in anxiety problems.
Dr Eamon McCrory, lead author from the UCL Division of Psychology and Language Sciences and the Anna Freud Centre, said: "We are only now beginning to understand how child abuse influences functioning of the brain's emotional systems. This research is important because it provides our first clues as to how regions in the child's brain may adapt to early experiences of abuse in the home."
Dr McCrory added: "All the children studied were healthy and none were suffering from a mental health problem. What we have shown is that exposure to family violence is associated with altered brain functioning in the absence of psychiatric symptoms and that these alterations may represent an underlying neural risk factor. We suggest these changes may be adaptive for the child in the short term but may increase longer term risk."
Researchers are looking forward to learning the forces that will lead some of the abused children to develop anxiety or depressive disorders and those factors that will help others from similar backgrounds to avoid later psychological repercussions.