Childhood problems and conflicts are not always buried in the past. Many of these experiences leave a deep mark on children’s emotional development and on their relationships with those around them. What was not known until recently, however, is that childhood distress can also affect children’s cognitive development and brain volume, according to a recent study from King’s College London.

What changes does childhood suffering produce at the brain level?

The research analyzed the brain of orphaned children who lived through years of deprivation in a state institution during Ceausescu’s Romania before being adopted, and it was found that these experiences affected their brain structure.

To get there To these results, the researchers analyzed the brains of 67 Romanian children adopted in the United Kingdom who were subjected to deprivation during their stay in Romanian orphanages and 21 English children adopted in the United Kingdom who were not subjected to such difficult conditions during their stay. their stay in the orphanages.

After accounting for various environmental and genetic factors, the results showed that Romanian children who had difficult experiences during their stay in the orphanage had substantially smaller brain volumes than other children, especially in the frontal and prefrontal area. They also had lower intelligence quotients and symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, probably related to reduced brain volume.

Other research conducted at Harvard University , in which 1,455 young people between the ages of 18 and 25 who had received at least one physical punishment per month for more than three years underwent a brain scan, also found changes in the volume of their gray matter.

child suffering

Basically, children who received more physical punishment had less gray matter in some areas of the prefrontal cortex, a region related to impulse control and behavior. This effect also had an impact on the cognitive development and intellectual level of these children in the long term. That is, the more punishment and suffering during childhood, the greater cognitive deficiency in childhood and adolescence.

Other effects of childhood suffering on child development

Another study, also conducted at King’s College London, included 165 Romanian children who had been subjected to severe deprivation in Romanian institutions before being adopted in the UK and 52 English toddlers adopted in the United Kingdom found that experiencing difficult experiences during childhood also affects cognitive development.

The results of the tests revealed that the cognitive functioning of Romanian children who were less than 6 months in a foster home was not far removed from that of English adopted children. In contrast, Romanian children who were exposed to deprivation and difficult conditions for more than 6 months showed signs of inattention and hyperactivity until adulthood, while also having lower educational performance.

Likewise, another investigation, this time carried out by experts from the University of New Hampshire in which more than 1,500 children between the ages of 2 and 9 participated, revealed that physical punishment in childhood is closely related to IQ . The results showed that children whose mothers physically punished them showed a delay in the development of their cognitive capacity, especially if the punishment continued beyond the age of 5.

This series of research shows that children who are more exposed to physical punishment and/or suffering during their childhood tend to have slower cognitive development and a lower IQ than their peers who have not experienced these experiences.