According to a group of University of
Wisconsin-Madison researchers, while a small degree of stress can provide a
platform for children for learning, adapting and coping, chronic toxic stress
experienced in childhood, such as poverty, neglect and physical abuse can
negatively impact them.
chronic stress alters those parts of growing children's brains that are tied to
learning, memory and stress and emotion processing systems. These alterations may have negative impact
on their behavior, health, employment and choice of romantic partners later in
really understood why things that happen when you're 2, 3, 4 years old stay
with you and have a lasting impact," said Seth Pollak, co-author of
research and UW-Madison professor of psychology.
To arrive at the
findings, the researchers elaborately interviewed 128 children around age 12
who had undergone either physical or mental abuse or were from poor
Simultaneously, the caregivers of children involved were also
During the course
of the interviews, the researchers recorded the children's behavioral problems
and their cumulative life stress.
the children's brains, primarily the hippocampus and amygdala that are linked
to emotion and stress processing. A comparison
was then made with children of the same age group from middle-class backgrounds
who had not undergone any abuse.
co-author, drew a sketch of each child's hippocampus and amygdala by hand and
measured their volumes since he believed automated software measurements
might be error prone.
The hand images
revealed smaller amygdalas in children who had undergone any of the three
categories of childhood stress than children who had not.
hippocampal volumes could be seen in physically abused children and those from
poor socioeconomic backgrounds.
The study also
revealed a strong association between increased behavioral problems and
cumulative life stress and smaller hippocampus and amygdala volumes.
The cause of
smaller brain structures linked to early life stress is still unknown, but that
a smaller hippocampus can cause negative impact has already been established.
The role of
amygdala is not yet fully understood, and so future studies will lay focus on
figuring out the importance of these volume changes.
emphasized the social responsibility of attending to the types of experiences
children undergo since he believes it is the society that shape people.
But Hanson and
Pollak caution the findings cannot be used to predict the future since they
point only to neurobiological markers, a display of human brain robustness and
human biological adaptability.
because it's in the brain doesn't mean it's destiny," says Hanson.
featured in the journal Biological