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Children Who Witness Domestic Abuse Show Brain Activity Similiar To Soldiers In Combat

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The abuse of children has always been noted to cause developmental problems and perhaps cause a lifelong impact, but new research places kids who witness domestic abuse right next to soldiers who have experienced combat.

Researchers scanned the brains of children, aged about 12 years old, who had either been physically abused or had observed domestic abuse. The team concluded that when responding to images of angry or sad faces, children experienced more activity in two areas of the brain: the anterior insula and the amygdala. Reuters reports that these two areas are associated with sensing potential threats, which are also active in soldiers.

Researchers said that their findings suggest that abused children and soliders have “adapted to become ‘hyper-aware’ of danger in their environment”:

“Enhanced reactivity to a…threat cue such as anger may represent an adaptive response for these children in the short term, helping keep them out of danger,” said Eamon McCrory of Britain’s University College London, who led the study.

Eamon also pointed out that this hyper-awareness in the brain for danger could perhaps be the neurobiological link that so often causes depression and other mental illness in children as they grow up. An additional study also discovered that children who were mistreaded were twice as likely as kids with nonviolent childhoods to develop recurrent depression — and be less likely to respond to treatment.

McCrory concluded that the maltreatment of children “gets under the skin and increases a child’s later vulnerability, even into adulthood” — a risk to both their development and their health.

(photo: Shutterstock)