New York: Children who have been abused experience more intense emotions than their peers who have not been abused. However, such children can be trained to control their emotions, says a study.
A team of researchers from the University of Washington studied what happens in the brains of abused children (ages 13-19) when they viewed emotional images, and then tried to control their responses to them.
The researchers found that with a little guidance, these children have a surprising ability to regulate their emotions.
"They were just as able [as peers who were not abused] to modulate their emotional responses when they were taught strategies for doing so," said lead author Kate McLaughlin, professor of psychology at Washington University.
The study involved 42 boys and girls age 13 to 19, half of whom had been physically and/or sexually abused.
The researchers tracked the teens' brain activity as they were shown a series of photographs.
The teens were first shown neutral, positive and negative images and instructed to let their emotions unfold naturally. Then they were shown more photos and told to try to regulate their responses.
The children were taught cognitive reappraisal, a strategy that involves thinking about a situation differently to alter the emotional response to it.
In both exercises, the positive images generated little difference in brain activity between the two groups.
But when looking at negative images, the maltreated teens had more activity in brain regions involved in identifying potential threats, including the amygdala, than the control group.
Though it was more difficult for them, the maltreated teens were able to modulate activity in the amygdala as well as the participants with no history of abuse.
"This has promising implications for treatment", said McLaughlin.
The study was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.