From Proventia, “Does child abuse affect brain development?”

In the ovarian lottery, we are born human babies ready to adapt to our surroundings.

Wild Cougar with baby

Dr. Vitelli at Proventia posted on how child abuse – sexual, physical, emotional, verbal, witnessing the abuse of others — affects brain development. (This was way back in November — I’ve been meaning to post on this.) The post discusses a presentation by Dr. Martin Teicher (here’s a link to the complete presentation ) from the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard/McLean hospital. (More after the jump)

(The powerpoint presentation is really terrific, but, as someone commented, a video would be great). Early stressors (like, say, neglect or abuse) irreversibly change brain organic components. These lead to social maladaptations later in life. Dr. Teicher concludes:

Our brains are sculpted by our early experiences. Maltreatment is a chisel that shapes a brain to contend with anticipated strife, but at the cost of deep, enduring wounds. Early childhood stress or trauma isn’t something you “get over.” It is an evil that we must acknowledge and confront if we aim to do anything about the unchecked cycle of violence, which often leads victims of abuse to become abusers.

Let’s say your mother smoked and drank, was genetically loaded for organically based depression, your father had trinucleotide repeats in his X chromosome, and you are born a little girl, say, in a poverty stricken area having environmental contaminants. As a baby you are alternatively neglected or witness the abuse of others. (Or, you are born in a war or the product of rape after a genocide or you name the atrocity).

Now, what chance do you have of happiness?

The human brain is born ready to adapt. These adaptations may have a delayed effect –behavior which only becomes apparent in adolescence or adulthood. If I could wave a magic neurological wand, it would be to have a re-setting of the infant brain so that we aren’t repeating the cycles of violence.