Early stress can have lasting negative impacts in children

Last Updated: Jun 30, 2014, 19:54 PM IST

Zee Media Bureau

Washington: A new study reveals that early exposure to stress can change the parts of developing children's brain.

The study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, found that chronic, toxic stress like poverty, neglect and physical abuse can have lasting negative impacts in children.

These kinds of stressors, experienced in early life, might change the parts of developing children's brains responsible for learning, memory and the processing of stress and emotion, researchers said.

These changes may be tied to negative impacts on behaviour, health, employment and even the choice of romantic partners later in life, they said.

The study, carried out by the researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was based on data from 128 children, aged around 12 years, who had experienced physical abuse, neglect or poverty early in life or came from low socio-economic status households.

Researchers conducted extensive interviews with the children and their caregivers, documenting behavioural problems and their cumulative life stress. The team also took brain scans of the children and compared them with brain scans of other children growing up in middle-class families who had not been maltreated.

Researchers found that children exposed to stress had changes in the amygdalas than children who had not.

They also found that children from low socio-economic status households and children who had been physically abused also had smaller hippocampal volumes. Putting the same images through automated software showed no effects.

Behavioural problems and increased cumulative life stress were also linked to smaller hippocampus and amygdala volumes.

(With Agency Inputs)