Brains of maltreated kids, combatants aware of dangers

December 6th, 2011 - 4:05 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Dec 6 (IANS) The brains of children exposed to family violence and soldiers in combat zones show an acute awareness of dangers.

Research suggests that they may have adapted to the lurking dangers in their environment.

University College London scientists with the Anna Freud Centre found that exposure to family violence was tied to higher brain activity in two specific areas (the anterior insula and the amygdala) when children viewed pictures of angry faces.

Previous functional MRI (fMRI) studies that scanned the brains of soldiers exposed to violent combat have shown the same pattern of heightened activation in these two brain areas, both linked with threat detection, the journal Current Biology reports.

However, the anterior insula and amygdala are also areas of the brain implicated in anxiety disorders.

Neural (brain cell) adaptation in these regions may help explain why children exposed to family violence are at greater risk of developing anxiety problems later in life.

Said Eamon McCrory, psychologist and study co-author from the University College London and the Anna Freud Centre: “We are only now beginning to understand how child abuse influences functioning of the brain’s emotional systems,” according to a statement.

“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. All the children studied were healthy and none were suffering from a mental health problem,” said McCrory.

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