Effects of early life trauma

The number of children who experience neglect or abuse is high—about ten out of every thousand children in the United States in 2008.29 Identifying and helping these children is especially difficult unless there are bruises or physical injuries. The effects of early life attachment can lie dormant in the brain until later life. The impact of these hidden effects is that, by adolescence, eighty percent of abused children will be diagnosed with a major psychiatric disorder. Imaging studies of abuse survivors often show that brain areas controlling emotion and cognition are abnormal and underlie these psychiatric disorders and difficulties functioning as a productive citizen. Animal research has provided great insight into how early life caregiving can impact these brain areas and has highlighted unexpected functioning of the brain in early life and the enormous role of the caregiver in controlling the brain’s response to trauma. The comparison of normal attachment formation and pain-related attachment suggests similar behaviors in early life are expressed as attachment to the caregiver, and the activation of different neural substrates may lay the foundation for the enduring effects of early life trauma.


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