Soldiers in Combat and Children at Home: The Effect of Violence on the Human Brain
Recent studies show that children who suffer from domestic violence display similar brain activity to combat veterans. Both exhibit increased sensitivity to potential threats, sensitivity to their environment that increases their susceptibility to psychological troubles later in life.
It has long been confirmed that experiencing domestic violence in childhood is one of the strongest environmental factors contributing to anxiety and depression. However, until functional brain imaging studies were recently conducted by the University College of London, there existed little physical evidence of this phenomenon. As Dr. Eamon McCrory, of UCL’s Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, author of the study that appeared in Current Biology, states “relatively little is known about how such adversity ‘gets under the skin’ and increases a child’s later vulnerability, even into adulthood.”
The UCL study is just a glimpse at the physical manifestation of domestic violence on the brain through a child’s neuropathy. McCrory states in the study “We are only now beginning to understand how child abuse influences functioning of the brain’s emotional systems. This research is important because it provides our first clues as to how regions in the child’s brain may adapt to early experiences of abuse in the home.”
In the study, brain scans showed that children who experience violence in the home, after being presented with images of angry faces, show increased activation in the areas of the brain associated with threat detection. They are, in effect, better at sensing that something bad is going to happen or that some pain is going to be inflicted on them, as do soldiers: scans of combat veterans display similar hyper-awareness of potential dangers in their environment.
While these adaptations do not signify brain damage, they do suggest increased vulnerability to stress and in turn, psychopathy, for the children who suffer from domestic violence. The University College of London’s study highlights the need to redirect society’s attention on the pervasive effects of domestic violence on the child and the need to continue working to put an end to the trauma for our children.
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