A new study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry suggests that chronic stress caused by poverty, neglect and physical abuse among children could shrink parts of their brain that are responsible for memory, learning and processing emotion.
The study has been conducted by researchers at University of Wisconsin-Madison who observed 128 children around 12 years of age and documented their behavioral problems and the level of stress in their lives.
Based on the findings, the children were divided into four groups with one group experiencing physical abuse, another group came from low income households, the third group had children who were neglected before being adopted from a foreign country while the fourth group was made up of children middle-class households and had not experienced any chronic early stress.
On scanning their brains with MRI, the researchers found that children who experienced poverty, neglect or physical abuse had a smaller amygdala and hippocampus, regions linked with memory, learning and emotion. While this is not the first study looking into the link between stress and stunted learning and memory, the researchers said that one of the reasons why previous studies did not agree with their conclusions could be the use of automated software in measuring the brain as the regions in question are very small.