The link between child abuse and psychopathology: A review of neurobiological and genetic research

University College London (UCL), London WC1H 0AP, UK.
Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (Impact Factor: 2.12). 04/2012; 105(4):151-6. DOI: 10.1258/jrsm.2011.110222
Source: PubMed


Childhood abuse is associated with later psychopathology, including conduct disorder, antisocial personality disorder, anxiety and depression as well as a heightened risk of health and social problems. However, the neurobiological mechanisms by which childhood adversity increases vulnerability to psychopathology remain poorly understood. There is likely to be a complex interaction between environmental experiences (such as abuse) and individual differences in risk versus protective genes, which influences the neurobiological circuitry underpinning psychological and emotional development. Neuroendocrine studies indicate an association between early adversity and atypical development of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis stress response, which may predispose to psychiatric vulnerability in adulthood. Brain imaging research in children and adults is providing evidence of several structural and functional brain differences associated with early adversity. Structural differences have been reported in the corpus callosum, cerebellum and prefrontal cortex. Functional differences have been reported in regions implicated in emotional and behavioural regulation, including the amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex. These differences at the neurobiological level may represent adaptations to early experiences of heightened stress that lead to an increased risk of psychopathology. We also consider the clinical implications of future neurobiological and genetic research.

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Available from: Stephane A De Brito, Apr 24, 2015
    • "Moreover, children adapt as readily to a negative environment as to a positive one (Howe, 2005; McCrory, De Brito & Viding, 2012), making it very difficult for those who have developed maladaptive attachment styles in response to a hostile environment to subsequently respond appropriately to nurturing environments, for instance, upon placement with adoptive carers (Egeland, 2009; Selwyn et al., 2014). Not only do abuse and neglect in infancy impact on children's ability to form attachments and trust others, they also affect their cognitive and behavioural development – for instance, neglected infants and toddlers show more evidence of poor social skills, difficulties in communication and language, and inadequate coping abilities (Hildyard & Wolfe, 2002). "
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    ABSTRACT: The Safeguarding Children Research Initiative (Davies & Ward, 2012) was a programme of fifteen studies commissioned by the Department of Health and what is now the Department for Education, each of which explored a different aspect of safeguarding children. This paper brings together the findings of these studies to explore the types of strategies that have been shown to promote positive long-term outcomes for children and young people at risk of maltreatment. The authors highlight the potential harm caused to children when they are exposed to maltreatment and demonstrate the range of interventions that have been developed to improve their long-term outcomes. The paper provides examples of universal, targeted and intensive services with a strong evidence base for success. The most effective intensive interventions are found to be those that prevent the occurrence or re-occurrence of maltreatment, address the underlying factors associated with maltreatment and the various stages associated with the process of change. The authors also examine the supplementary issues practitioners need to be aware of when considering the choice of intervention, including some of the obstacles to providing support, such as the nature of the evidence base, the extent to which different agencies work together to provide services for vulnerable children and families, the availability of resources and the ways in which children and families move between different parts of the child welfare system. If practitioners are to make best use of the available interventions, it is important that they select those underpinned by robust evidence showing that positive outcomes have been achieved for families in similar circumstances.
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    • "One of the most potent and well-studied risk factors in childhood is harsh parenting. Harsh parenting, which can include , but is not limited to, physical assault (e.g., hitting) and psychological aggression (e.g., yelling) by the parent or caregiver (e.g., Shaw et al., 2003), plays a major role in the development of psychopathology (for reviews, see Cicchetti & Toth, 1995; McCrory, De Brito, & Viding, 2012; Oswald, Heil, & Goldbeck, 2010). It is well established that harsh parenting is associated with worse externalizing behavior in toddlerhood (e.g., age 2, Callahan et al., 2011; age 2–3, Eiden, Coles, Schuetze, & Colder, 2013; age 2–4, Waller et al., 2012) as well as older childhood (e.g., ages 9–16, Deardorff et al., 2013). "
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    ABSTRACT: Psychological disorders co-occur often in children, but little has been done to document the types of conjoint pathways internalizing and externalizing symptoms may take from the crucial early period of toddlerhood or how harsh parenting may overlap with early symptom codevelopment. To examine symptom codevelopment trajectories, we identified latent classes of individuals based on internalizing and externalizing symptoms across ages 3–9 and found three symptom codevelopment classes: normative symptoms (low), severe-decreasing symptoms (initially high but rapidly declining), and severe symptoms (high) trajectories. Next, joint models examined how parenting trajectories overlapped with internalizing and externalizing symptom trajectories. These trajectory classes demonstrated that, normatively, harsh parenting increased after toddlerhood, but the severe symptoms class was characterized by a higher level and a steeper increase in harsh parenting and the severe-decreasing class by high, stable harsh parenting. In addition, a transactional model examined the bidirectional relationships among internalizing and externalizing symptoms and harsh parenting because they may cascade over time in this early period. Harsh parenting uniquely contributed to externalizing symptoms, controlling for internalizing symptoms, but not vice versa. In addition, internalizing symptoms appeared to be a mechanism by which externalizing symptoms increase. Results highlight the importance of accounting for both internalizing and externalizing symptoms from an early age to understand risk for developing psychopathology and the role harsh parenting plays in influencing these trajectories.
    Development and Psychopathology 01/2015; -1(4pt1):1-18. DOI:10.1017/S0954579414001412 · 4.89 Impact Factor
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    • "There is a growing body of research evidence from a wide range of disciplines showing that abuse and neglect are likely to have long-term adverse consequences across children's physical, cognitive, social, emotional and behavioural development (see for instance Norman et al., 2012). Maltreatment has a negative impact at all ages, but is thought to be particularly pernicious in the early years because of the impact on the child's neurobiological development and the attachment process (see for instance Howe, 2006; McCrory, De Brito and Viding, 2012). The negative impact of abuse and neglect has also been shown to continue throughout childhood and adolescence, and into adulthood (see for instance Romer, 2010; Springer et al., 2007). "

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