Difficult childhoods affected by poverty and stress such as divorce, parental separation may leave a permanent effect on the brain, new research suggests.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine set out to find any links between childhood stress, poverty and brain function. They took MRI scans of 49 24 year-olds . Around half the test subjects had experienced poverty at the age of nine and some had experienced childhood stress.
The researchers asked the 24 year-olds to focus on putting negative feelings out of their mind while they viewed a series of images.
The MRI scanning revealed noticeable differences between the study participants who had experienced difficult childhoods and those who hadn’t. While viewing the images, those with tougher childhoods showed greater activity in the amygdala, an area of the brain associated with negative emotions such as fear and anxiety. The same subjects showed less activity in the prefrontal cortex , another area of the brain which scientists have linked to the control of negative emotions.
Scientists have linked issues with the amygdala and prefrontal cortex to such problems as depression, anxiety and addiction.
Lead research Dr K Luan Phan said little previous research had been done on the links between poverty and brain function, but the amount of stress the individuals had experienced in childhood provided a link.
“Our findings suggest that the stress-burden of growing up poor may be an underlying mechanism that accounts for the relationship between poverty as a child and how well your brain works as an adult.”
Poorly controlled negative emotions can effect physical health.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.