Brain Changes in Abused Children

by Ren Chats

Diminished Neuron Development: MRI Shows Cortex Thinning Over Specific Regions of The Brain

Diminished Neuron Development: MRI Shows Cortex Thinning Over Specific Regions of The Brain

Child abuse victims are disturbed psychologically, emotionally and sexually for life.

What makes the impact of childhood trauma persist through the adulthood has however been a mystery, and therefore a topic of research.

Known fact

Childhood is the dynamic phase of brain growth, maturation of sensory synaptic pathways and cognitive development in response to childhood experiences. Emotional and physical experiences modulate the development of neuronal network: Neuronal plasticity.

The hypothesis

By attribute of neuronal plasticity, stimuli from abusive experiences; sexual, emotional and physical, are blocked: Probably an innate mechanism to instantly shield children from abusive sensory inputs. The regional specific neuronal development in the brain in response to unpleasant inputs is thereby thinned out.

The study published in American Journal of Psychiatry

Several renowned scientist have proved this hypotheses by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of brain of 51 adult women who suffered various forms of abuse during their childhood.

Diminished neuron development was seen as thinning of the brain cortex on MRI images. Thinning of the cortex was found to correlate precisely with the brain segments that are involved in perception and processing of the type of abuse suffered by each individual: Childhood sexual abuse victims’ MRI showed thinning of cortex specifically in region of brain that represents female genitals; while the brains of those who suffered emotional trauma showed thinning in areas specific for self-awareness, self-evaluation and self-regulation.
Conclusion drawn

Self-regulation, self-awareness and self-evaluation form core of personality development and healthy psycho social relationships.

Improper self-evaluation consequently leads to inappropriate behavior, emotional outbursts and increased anxiety.

On the other hand, sensory cortex thinning in regions that perceive pain and sexual gratification leads to lifelong inappropriate responses to respective stimuli.

The study has given us concrete documentation of long term changes in specific areas of brain as a consequence of childhood sexual abuse, physical and psychological trauma, emotional deprivation and neglect.

Hope for future

Of course, all types of child abuse need to be stopped!
But till then ...?
Since behavioral and psychological disorders suffered by the abused can be explained on brain architecture changes observed in the abused,
the correlation and understanding drawn from the study will hopefully bring forth possibilities for developing new therapies to overcome lifelong suffering of abused children.


Decreased Cortical Representation of Genital Somatosensory Field After Childhood Sexual Abuse: Christine M. Heim, Helen S. Mayberg, Tanja Mletzko, Charles B. Nemeroff, Jens C. Pruessner: Am J Psychiatry,June 1, 2013

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