Researchers find key differences in brains of abused and neglected young people

Findings suggest abnormalities may be linked to early exposure to mistreatment


The brains of some children who have been abused or neglected are structurally different from those of young people who have not been exposed to ill-treatment, researchers have found.

Researchers speculate that these structural abnormalities may be biological markers of vulnerability as a result of early exposure to mistreatment. The findings were presented at the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect conference in Dublin.

A team of experts at University College London scanned the brains of more than 20 children aged between 10 and 14 years of age who were referred to social services following documented experiences of mistreatment.

When the results were compared with scans of children who had not been exposed to abuse or neglect, the team found evidence of structural differences in the former group typically associated with psychiatric vulnerability.

A growing body of research has demonstrated a strong association between childhood abuse and increased vulnerability to psychiatric disorders. Other research presented included evidence that school-based universal education is an effective way of reducing risky behaviour among adolescents.

Dr David Wolfe of the University of Toronto has helped pioneer new approaches to preventing bullying, relationship violence and substance abuse.

A key aspect of the programme, he said, was giving young people the tools to make good decisions so they will be able to deal better with negative situations. It has been implemented in more than 1,000 schools in Canada and the US.