Stress During Early Childhood Leads to Faster Maturation of the Brain

Stress During Early Childhood Leads to Faster Maturation of the Brain

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Highlights:
  • Stress during early childhood may lead to faster maturation of the brain during adolescence
  • Faster maturation prevents the brain from flexibly adjusting to the current environment
  • Stress on the brain can increase the risk of developing antisocial personality traits
Stress due to negative experiences during childhood may lead to faster maturation of certain regions of the brain during adolescence, according to a new study from Radboud University. The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Stress During Early Childhood Leads to Faster Maturation of the Brain

Brain Development and Adolescence

During adolescence, previously made connections of the brain are refined and made efficient by a natural process called pruning. This makes it crucial for the brain development to occur in a systematic manner. Faster or slower maturation of the brain can alter the pruning process.

Study Overview

The long-term study included 37 participants who were monitored for almost 20 years. The study was initialized in 1988 and over the next 20 years, the research team studied the children's play sessions and interactions with parents, friends and classmates. They were also subjected to MRI scans. The data was used to analyze how stress in various life stages affects the adolescent brain, especially the cerebral areas, of these children.

The team investigated two types of stressors of the social environment. The two types were:
  • negative life events and
  • negative influences.
Later, these were analysed in two life stages:
  • Early childhood (0-5 years) and
  • Adolescence (14-17 years)
The stress levels measured were related to the maturation of the prefrontal cortex, amygdala and hippocampus, all of which play a key role in functioning in social and emotional situations.

Study Findings:

  • Stress during childhood caused due to negative experiences, such as illness or divorce, was related to faster maturation of the prefrontal cortex and amygdala during adolescence.
  • Stress during adolescence caused due from negative social environment, such as low peer esteem at school, was related to slower maturation of the hippocampus.
  • Social stress later in life leads to slower maturation during adolescence and stronger the effect of stress on the brain higher the risk of developing antisocial personality traits.
'The fact that early childhood stress accelerates the maturation process during adolescence is consistent with theories of evolutionary biology,' says PhD student Anna Tyborowska of Radboud University. 'From an evolutionary perspective, it is useful to mature faster if you grow up in a stressful environment. However, it also prevents the brain from adjusting to the current environment in a flexible way. In other words, the brain become "mature" too soon.'

References :
  1. Baby's Brain Begins Now: Conception to Age 3 - (http://www.urbanchildinstitute.org/why-0-3/baby-and-brain)
  2. Understanding the Effects of Maltreatment on Brain Development - (https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/brain_development.pdf)


Source: Medindia

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