Child Abuse Affects The Brain

Article first published as Child Abuse Affects the Brain on Technorati.

The December issue of Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine has reported the findings of a Yale University Study which shows that child abuse, physical and emotional impact many areas of the brain. The study included the results of the self-reported Childhood Trauma Questionnaire and brain scans of 42 teenagers, with equal numbers of caucasian and African-Americans.  Four multiracial teenagers were also included in the study.

The research showed that the volume of gray matter in the brain was diminished in the teenagers who had suffered the abuse or neglect.  The number of regions of the brain affected was substantial:

According to MedPageToday which reported the study findings these are the regions of the brain and some of their functions that are affected:

  • Physical abuse: left dorsolateral and left rostral prefrontal cortices (executive function), right orbitofrontal cortex (emotional regulation and sense of the self), right ventral striatum (emotion and motivation), right insula (emotional intelligence), and right temporal association cortex (memory)
  • Physical neglect: left rostral prefrontal cortex (executive function), right parietal association cortex (spatial perception), and bilateral cerebellum (balance)
  • Emotional neglect: certain portions of the hypothalamus and midbrain, bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex(executive function), bilateral rostral prefrontal cortex (executive function), bilateral dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (cognitive function), right superior frontal gyrus (self-awareness ), right orbitofrontal cortex (emotional regulation and sense of the self), bilateral striatum, bilateral amygdala (processing emotions) and hippocampus (emotions and memory), bilateral cerebellum (balance), and left parietal (perceptual difficulties and problems with speech, writing and math), right temporal (visual memory), and left occipital association cortices (integration of visual information).

Girls showed more brain deficits in areas governing emotional processing and boys were more challenged in areas of the brain responsible for impulse control.

It is apparent that substantial and comprehensive brain damage is created as a result of child abuse. When you consider all the brain regions suffering damage from the abuse, it is inevitable that the individual will have developmental difficulties if not worse.  Sense of self, integration of sensory inputs, executive functioning and impulse control are all vital to effective daily functioning and human development.

It might be time to ask ourselves whether it is worth the cost in health bills, law enforcement and social problems as well as lost human capabilities to continue to ignore child abuse.  Better yet, if we eliminated child abuse, what would our world look like?

About Maria Hill

Maria Hill is the founder of Sensitive Evolution. She is the author of The Emerging Sensitive: A Guide For Finding Your Place In The World. In addition, she has created the immersive Emerging Sensitive Program using cultural and personal development frameworks to help sensitive people master their sensitivity and turn it into the asset it can be. She also offers The Magic Of Joy program for quantum healing and the Emerging Sensitive Community focused on living in the world as a sensitive person and navigating the challenging cultural shifts of our times. She is a longtime meditator, reiki master, student of alternative health and Ayurveda. Maria is a Certified Theta Healer and certified in Spiral Dynamics. She is an abstract painter whose portfolio can be found at Infinite Shape and also very interested in animal and human rights and the environment.


  1. Vincent Leuzy on December 7, 2011 at 10:28 am

    I am new at blogging and following…I just finished reading ”Mitch Joel – Six Pixels of Separation” which lead me to Technorati…I chose your blog because of its topic…Disturbing reading ( other adjectives could be added, all on commenting on the sad side of humanity) in terms of discovering what abuse does to a child and in so doing, wondering what it did to me many years ago…I know of one that had to do with what you stae in your write up that ”boys were more challenged in areas of the brain responsible for impulse control”…I remember the bouts of inner destructive rage I learned to ”eliminate” / just a comment because It is not about me, it is about the question you asked ”Better yet, if we eliminated child abuse, what would our world look like?”…we need to talk about it, to make it part of everyone conscience and understand that children are our future…I remember years ago listening to John Bradshaw PBS lectures on the ”Inner child” in particular & how much it helped me find my way…Paul Gaugin, in his famous painting asks of us the following question ”What are we?” …
    If we tie it to the last of his three questions, ”where are we going”, isn’t it time to reflect early on upon who we are, who we should be and what we are going to leave behind us, to elevate our collective conscience and reflect upon the many tears many of us have inflicted to little souls by our actions and/or lack of… and since we are on the subject, how can I help ?

    • Maria on December 7, 2011 at 11:25 am

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I can see that you have given a lot of thought to the subject and am glad that you are working on your healing. Most of us have healing work to do. If you have not read Alice Miller’s work on abuse, she is worth adding to your reading list.

      In reference to your question about what to do, I think that there is a waking up process that is going on in the world as people become aware that many of our human systems are harmful. That waking up process is leading to challenging many things from the quality of our food to animal abuse. The challenging itself will help our children. However, I think your question is probably a practical one.

      I think we are headed into some hard times and anything you can do to be a part of a self sustaining community will offer some protection to the children around you. More and more children are being abused and killed because of economic circumstances. Helping to securing basic necessities in a community would be one step you could take. Of course, there are many charities and groups that work for children, I am sure they would love your interest.

      It is aways heartening to hear from people who take child abuse seriously. I wish you the best of holiday seasons and a great 2012.

  2. nancys on June 22, 2016 at 8:51 am

    This article couldn’t be more timely. On a personal level, I have had lifelong depression and the sense that something dark has accompanied me from my childhood, and pretty much destroyed my sense of self, and any chance of achieving a positive and productive life. It has rendered me fragile, constantly fearful of unknown things as well as real things, and am at the stage now where I feel like I am so insubstantial that i wonder if I am real at all. I have always been acutely affected by child abuse stories I see in the news, and i know that is as much to do with being HSP as any other factor. I am at a loss to how to deal with this on my own. As much as i know I need to have deep therapy, I would like to think there are ways i can help to heal myself. Any suggestions would be very much appreciated. Thank you for writing this article. x

    • Maria Hill on June 22, 2016 at 10:25 am

      Hi Nancys,

      Thanks for stopping by – I am glad that you liked the article. I think that one of the reasons that child abuse makes us feel insubstantial is because it is felt as a condemnation of ourselves, our nature and our goodness. There is a wonderful book that helps: Practically Shameless by Alyce Barry. She goes through exercises that help with self reclamation. I also recommend Dr. Bill PLotkin, a depth psychologist and author of Wild Mind, Nature and the Soul and Soulcraft which are the basis of our Whole Self course. All of these books will help you. If I can help further please let me know.

      All the best,

    • Coleen on June 24, 2016 at 1:52 am

      Hi Nancys,

      If too have felt that something happened in my childhood that I am not aware of, and have been deeply affected by sexual abuse stories. I found this site about a month ago, and feeling for a long time that I may need some help, felt like it showed up for a reason. I can’t do it at the moment, but am planning on signing up in a couple of months to see how it goes. Not sure if I can post a link here, but if not, it’s called Self-Help Therapy by Jay Early.

      Much luck to you.

    • Maria Hill on June 24, 2016 at 8:06 am

      Thanks,Coleen for the link – I hope it helps you and others. Healing is the important task of all of us in order to raise the consciousness of humans on the planet.

      All the best,

  3. carl on June 22, 2016 at 3:32 pm

    i dont want to diminish the yale university study , but Dr Arthur Janov wrote about this years ago and published it in, ‘prisoners of pain’, and ‘The new primal scream’ , in my opinion the only book one needs to read to deal with childhood trauma. it took me from cold, depressed and low self esteem to alive, loving , aware with HUGE self esteem . it made me realise i am a decent human being and its other peoples projection which keeps people down.

    • Maria Hill on June 22, 2016 at 4:21 pm

      Thanks, Carl for adding your perspective and the information about Dr. Arthur Janov. I am glad that you are better and doing well.

      All the best,