Childhood abuse can rewire the brain

As though experiencing maltreatment as a child weren’t bad enough – scientists have now shown that it can alter the wiring of your brain. Yes, you read that correctly – apparently, such trauma can change how we react to fear as adults. So how do researchers go about measuring this? Brain scans.

Sad boy leaning against wall

Childhood Trauma Can Alter Brain Wiring (Photo by Marco Nedermeijer)

Yup, scientists at the University of Wisconsin scanned some adult brains, specifically, those of volunteers who were followed from birth through to age 18. Participants who reported experiencing childhood maltreatment were found to have lower connectivity between key brain regions. Neither their amygdala nor their hippocampus were on good speaking terms with their cingulate cortex. What does that mean? Basically, the childhood trauma altered how their brains processed fear as adults, leading to an increased risk of anxiety and depression.

Scientists have previously demonstrated that childhood abuse can alter our DNA. However, this is the first time that researchers have shown it can alter how our brains are wired and respond to emotional situations. Hopefully, this knowledge will lead to better interventions for patients. Minimizing childhood trauma would obviously be ideal, but parents need not worry – despite their protests, making your kids do their homework probably won’t traumatize them.

About the author

Melissa Carmen Cheung, PhD

Passionate about sharing science with the public in a fun and accessible way, Melissa is a Medical Communications professional who earned her Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences from the University of Toronto. Though her research focused on the design of novel cancer therapeutics, Melissa is intrigued by all facets of science. Her goal in life is to captivate people with the same excitement she feels for science.