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Childhood stress affects adult behaviour, new study suggests

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.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Andrew says:

    “Childhood stress affects adult behaviour, new study suggests”

    Another new study suggests that where arboreals abound, there ursines will defecate.

  2. Stitchedup says:

    I don’t see what this has to do with price of eggs. We are constantly reminded that it’s a price worth paying if the woman is not having her “dreams and aspirations met”.

  3. Divorce Easily says:

    The danger of this research is that some separating parents may feel that their children will inevitably be damaged by the separation. In reality, remaining in an unhappy marriage could prove to be more damaging to the children in the long run. However, accepting the potential negative impact that divorce or parental separation can have on children is likely to be the first step towards achieving a child-centric divorce or separation.

  4. Stitchedup says:

    Divorce Easily – “The danger of this research is that some separating parents may feel that their children will inevitably be damaged by the separation”

    Is this such a bad thing????…. a pair of separating, feuding parents stop to think about the consequences that divorce/separation may have on their children.

    I firmly believe that Marriage guidance or family counselling for cohabiting parents should be made mandatory as a precursor to the family court process, AND, I don’t believe minor unproven allegations of domestic abuse should be allowed to trump that as they are currently allowed to trump offers of family mediation.

  5. Tulsa Divorce Lawyer Matt Ingham says:

    New study?? Really?? This is old news as far as I am concerned.

  6. Divorce Easily says:

    Stitchedup – It definitely isn’t a bad thing for feuding parents to stop to think about the consequences of their actions on their children. Too often parents can’t separate their own desires from what is in their children’s best interests. However, there are circumstances in which it is better for all concerned for a marriage to end. In those circumstances it doesn’t help either of the parents to be made to feel that their children will inevitably suffer harm from the family breakdown.

    In respect of mediation, one of the difficulties is that too many people avoid going to Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings for spurious reasons. Therefore mediation isn’t given a chance. It is intended that the Children and Families Bill will address this issue, so let’s hope that there is a bigger uptake of mediation as a result.

  7. Anonymous says:

    It’s news to judges whose minds live In dark ages, I guess.

  8. Tracy W says:

    I don’t see how this study can control for genetic links. (Eg, parents suffer from a tendency to depression and anxiety, thus tend to struggle to hold jobs and manage other life functions, kid has stressful and poor childhood, and and also is more likely to inherit genes giving a tendency towards depression and anxiety).

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