University of Wisconsin study: Children who are mistreated have permanent scars on their brain

13 Nov

Moi wrote in University of Oregon study: Abusive parenting may have biological link: Moi wrote in University of Pittsburgh study: Harsh verbal discipline is not effective;
The question is how to find a balance between “Tiger Mom” and phony self-esteem.
In No one is perfect: People sometimes fail, moi said:
The Child Development Institute has a good article about how to help your child develop healthy self- esteem. A discussion of values is often difficult, but the question the stage parent, over the top little league father, or out of control soccer mom should ask of themselves is what do you really and truly value? What is more important, your child’s happiness and self-esteem or your fulfilling an unfinished part of your life through your child? Joe Jackson, the winner of the most heinous stage parent award saw his dreams fulfilled with the price of the destruction of his children’s lives. Most people with a healthy dose of self-esteem and sanity would say this is too high a price.

Science Daily reported in the article, Abusive Parenting May Have a Biological Basis:

Parents who physically abuse their children appear to have a physiological response that subsequently triggers more harsh parenting when they attempt parenting in warm, positive ways, according to new research….
Studies of child maltreatment have consistently found that parents who physically abuse their children tend to parent in more hostile, critical and controlling ways. Skowron’s team appears to have found evidence of a physiological basis for patterns of aversive parenting — the use of hostile actions such as grabbing an arm or hand or using negative verbal cues in guiding a child’s behavior — in a sample of families involved with Child Protective Services.
For the experiment, mothers and children were monitored to record changes in heart rate while playing together in the lab. Parenting behavior was scored to capture positive parenting and strict, hostile control using a standard coding system.
What emerged, Skowron said, were clear distinctions between abusive, neglectful and non-maltreating mothers in their physiological responses during parenting. When abusive mothers were more warm and nurturing, they began to experience more difficulty regulating their heart rate and staying calm. This physiological-based stress response then led the abusive mothers to become more hostile and controlling toward their child a short time later in the interaction.
The same was not the case for mothers who had been previously identified as being physically neglectful or for mothers with no history of neglectful or abusive parenting.
Participants in the National Institutes of Health-funded study were 141 mothers — 94 percent Caucasian with a high school degree or less and incomes at or below $30,000 — and their children, ranged in age from 3 to 5 years old. The research focuses on tracking the effects of physiology on parenting in real time.
“Abusive mothers who try to warmly support their child when the child faced a moderate challenge displayed a physiological response that suggested they’re stressed, on alert and preparing to defend against a threat of some kind,” said Skowron, a researcher at the Child and Family Center/Prevention Science Institute at the UO. “This kind of physiological response then led to a shift in an abusive mother becoming more hostile, strict, and controlling ways with her young child, regardless of how her child was behaving.”
The findings, she added, suggest that when physically abusive mothers experience being a nurturing parent they find it to be hard work. “It appears to quickly wear them out, perhaps because it challenges them in ways that lower-risk mothers don’t experience,” she said. “An abusive mother appears caught: When she does a good job with her child, it costs her physiologically, and it negatively affects her because it leads to more aversive parenting….”

A University of Wisconsin study examined the effect abusive parents have on their children.

Jon Hamilton of NPR reported in the story, Childhood Maltreatment Can Leave Scars In The Brain:

Maltreatment during childhood can lead to long-term changes in brain circuits that process fear, researchers say. This could help explain why children who suffer abuse are much more likely than others to develop problems like anxiety and depression later on.
Brain scans of teenagers revealed weaker connections between the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus in both boys and girls who had been maltreated as children, a team from the University of Wisconsin reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Girls who had been maltreated also had relatively weak connections between the prefrontal cortex the amygdala.
Those weaker connections “actually mediated or led to the development of anxiety and depressive symptoms by late adolescence,” says Ryan Herringa, a psychiatrist at the University of Wisconsin and one of the study’s authors.
Maltreatment can be physical or emotional, and it ranges from mild to severe. So the researchers asked a group of 64 fairly typical 18-year-olds to answer a questionnaire designed to assess childhood trauma. The teens are part of a larger study that has been tracking children’s social and emotional development in more than 500 families since 1994.
The participants were asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements like, “When I was growing up I didn’t have enough to eat,” or “My parents were too drunk or high to take care of the family,” or “Somebody in my family hit me so hard that it left me with bruises or marks.”
There were also statements about emotional and sexual abuse. The responses indicated that some had been maltreated in childhood while others hadn’t.
All of the participants had their brains scanned using a special type of MRI to measure the strength of connections among three areas of the brain involved in processing fear…


Childhood maltreatment is associated with altered fear circuitry and increased internalizing symptoms by late adolescence
1. Ryan J. Herringaa,1,2,
2. Rasmus M. Birna,b,1,
3. Paula L. Ruttlea,
4. Cory A. Burghyc,
5. Diane E. Stodolac,
6. Richard J. Davidsona,c,d, and
7. Marilyn J. Essexa,2
Author Affiliations
1. Edited by Huda Akil, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, and approved October 7, 2013 (received for review June 6, 2013)
Childhood maltreatment is a major risk factor for internalizing disorders including depression and anxiety, which cause significant disability. Altered connectivity of the brain’s fear circuitry represents an important candidate mechanism linking maltreatment and these disorders, but this relationship has not been directly explored. Using resting-state functional brain connectivity in adolescents, we show that maltreatment predicts lower prefrontal–hippocampal connectivity in females and males but lower prefrontal–amygdala connectivity only in females. Altered connectivity, in turn, mediated the development of internalizing symptoms. These results highlight the importance of fronto–hippocampal connectivity for both sexes in internalizing symptoms following maltreatment. The additional impact on fronto–amygdala connectivity in females may help explain their higher risk for anxiety and depression.
Maltreatment during childhood is a major risk factor for anxiety and depression, which are major public health problems. However, the underlying brain mechanism linking maltreatment and internalizing disorders remains poorly understood. Maltreatment may alter the activation of fear circuitry, but little is known about its impact on the connectivity of this circuitry in adolescence and whether such brain changes actually lead to internalizing symptoms. We examined the associations between experiences of maltreatment during childhood, resting-state functional brain connectivity (rs-FC) of the amygdala and hippocampus, and internalizing symptoms in 64 adolescents participating in a longitudinal community study. Childhood experiences of maltreatment were associated with lower hippocampus–subgenual cingulate rs-FC in both adolescent females and males and lower amygdala–subgenual cingulate rs-FC in females only. Furthermore, rs-FC mediated the association of maltreatment during childhood with adolescent internalizing symptoms. Thus, maltreatment in childhood, even at the lower severity levels found in a community sample, may alter the regulatory capacity of the brain’s fear circuit, leading to increased internalizing symptoms by late adolescence. These findings highlight the importance of fronto–hippocampal connectivity for both sexes in internalizing symptoms following maltreatment in childhood. Furthermore, the impact of maltreatment during childhood on both fronto–amygdala and –hippocampal connectivity in females may help explain their higher risk for internalizing disorders such as anxiety and depression.
• child maltreatment

• sex differences

• ventromedial prefrontal cortex
• 1R.J.H. and R.M.B. contributed equally to this work.
• 2To whom correspondence may be addressed. E-mail: or
• Author contributions: R.J.H., R.J.D., and M.J.E. designed research; R.J.H., R.M.B., C.A.B., and M.J.E. performed research; R.J.H., R.M.B., P.L.R., C.A.B., D.E.S., and M.J.E. analyzed data; and R.J.H., R.M.B., P.L.R., C.A.B., R.J.D., and M.J.E. wrote the paper.
• The authors declare no conflict of interest.
• This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.
• This article contains supporting information online at

Helping parents and caretakers to respond appropriately to children is crucial to stopping the cycle of abuse.

Moi wrote in Missouri program: Parent home visits:
The key ingredient is parental involvement. The Wisconsin Council on Children and Families (Council) has a great policy brief on parental involvement.

In Parents As Partners in Early Education, the Council reports:

Researchers generally agree that parents and family are the primary influence on a child’s development. Parents, grandparents, foster parents and others who take on parenting
roles strongly affect language development, emotional growth, social skills and personality. High quality
early childhood programs engage parents as partners in early education, encouraging them to volunteer in programs, read to their children at home, or be involved in curriculum design. Good programs maintain strong communication with parents, learning more about the child from the family and working together with the family to meet each child’s needs. Some ECE programs include occasional home visits as a way of maintaining a relationship between the program and parents. These approaches are the more typical, standard way of involving parents in early childhood programs.

It is going to take coordination between not only education institutions, but a strong social support system to get many of children through school. This does not mean a large program directed from Washington. But, more resources at the local school level which allow discretion with accountability. For example, if I child is not coming to school because they have no shoes or winter coat, then the child gets new shoes and/or a coat. School breakfast and lunch programs must be supported and if necessary, expanded. Unfortunately, schools are now the early warning system for many families in crisis.

Where information leads to Hope. © Dr.

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