Early life emotional trauma may stunt intellectual development

Early life emotional trauma may stunt intellectual development, indicates the first long term study of its kind, published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The impact seems to be the most damaging during the first two years of a child's life, the findings suggest.

The US researchers tracked the development of 206 from birth to the age of eight years, who were taking part in the Minnesota of Parents and Children. This study, which started in 1975, looks at which factors influence individual development.

Every few months they assessed the participating families, using a mix of observing mother-child interactions at home and in the laboratory, interviews with the mother, and reviews of medical and child protection records.

From these data, they rated whether a child was abused physically, sexually or emotionally; endured neglect; or witnessed against his/her mother at specific time points up to the age of 5+ years.

The children's was then assessed using validated scales at the ages of two years, 5+ years, and 8 years, and exposure to maltreatment or violence was categorised according to whether these occurred during (0-24 months) or pre-school (24-64 months).

Around one in three of the children (36.5%) had been maltreated and/or witnessed violence against his/her mother by age 5+.

In just under one in 20 (4.8%) this occurred in infancy; in 13% this was during the pre-school period; and in around one in five (18.7%) this occurred during both periods.

Analysis of the data showed that children who had been exposed to maltreatment and/or violence against the mother had lower scores on the cognitive measures at all time points.

The results held true even after taking account of factors likely to influence IQ development, such as social and , mother's IQ, weight at birth, birth complications, quality of intellectual stimulation at home, and gender.

The effects were most noticeable for those children who had experienced this type of trauma during the first two years of their lives, the findings showed.

Their scores were an average of 7.25 points lower than those of children without early exposure, even after accounting for other risk factors.

"The results suggest that [ and witnessing domestic violence] in early childhood, particularly during the first two years, has significant and enduring effects on cognitive development, even after adjusting for [other risk factors]," write the authors.

They go on to say that their findings echo those of other researchers who have identified changes in brain circuitry and structure associated with trauma and adversity in early life.

The early years of a child's life are when the brain is developing most rapidly, they say, adding, "Because early brain organisation frames later neurological development, changes in early development may have lifelong consequences."

Related Stories

Recommended for you

The hunt for botanicals

4 hours ago

Herbal medicine can be a double-edged sword and should be more rigorously investigated for both its beneficial and harmful effects, say researchers writing in a special supplement of Science.

Mozambique decriminalises abortion to stem maternal deaths

5 hours ago

Mozambique has passed a law permitting women to terminate unwanted pregnancies under specified conditions without risking punishment, a move hailed by activists in a country where clandestine abortions account for a large ...

Infertility, surrogacy in India

5 hours ago

Infertility is a growing problem worldwide. A World Health Organization report estimates that 60-to-80 million couples worldwide currently suffer from infertility.

Tooth loss linked to slowing mind and body

18 hours ago

The memory and walking speeds of adults who have lost all of their teeth decline more rapidly than in those who still have some of their own teeth, finds new UCL research.

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

roopdascoop
not rated yet Apr 03, 2012
Looks like the Minnesota Longitudinal Study forgot to tell Enrico Fermi.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.