Tracking changes in the brain from childhood abuse to adult mental illness

I just came across Brain Changes from Child Abuse Tied to Adult Mental Illness, Sexual Problems from PsychCentral that is a great follow up to my last post: The affects of child abuse in the brains of children. Rick Nauert explains a study run by Charles B. Nemeroff that examined cortical thickness in the brains of a group of women who suffered childhood abuse.

Excerpt from article:

“The results showed a correlation between specific forms of maltreatment and thinning of the cortex in precisely the regions of the brain that are involved in the perception or processing of the type of abuse. Specifically, the somatosensory cortex in the area in which the female genitals are represented was significantly thinner in women who were victims of sexual abuse in their childhood.”

It has been hypothesized that the thinning of these cortices could be a protective mechanism so that the sensory experience (of the abuse) is minimized – if less neurons are firing in the somatosensory cortex then the person’s sensory experience will be reduced. This is an interesting idea, but I’m not entirely convinced.

A protective mechanism suggests that the area is ‘protected’ while the abuse is experienced, but really the area is just suffering too much activity too early on in the development of the child, and there is too much stress. This just results in a malformed brain – nothing has been protected. The end result would be a victim trying to make it through life, most likely with a stress or personality disorder. The reduced cortical thickness will not provide any kind of adaptive advantage, which suggests that the ‘protective mechanism’ idea was not the result of brain evolution.

For additional information on the study go to the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine website.

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