Can parental fighting change the brain of young children?

the-sad-girlIt is known that abuse and neglect directed towards children during the first years of childhood can lead to psychological disorders in the future. However, a recent study conducted by Dr. Nicholas Walsh of the University of East Anglia’s School of Psychology as well as scientists from Cambridge University has published evidence that troubles between parents can affect psychological growth as well. Family members not getting along and lack of communication between family members were shown to affect a child’s brain in a manner that would increase their chances of having a psychological disorder in the future.

Two groups of participants with an average age of 18 years were studied, one with little to no exposure to childhood adversities and one with exposure to childhood adversities. Childhood adversities were defined as, “exposure to abuse (emotional, physical or sexual) and/or significant family discord; occasional physical violence, lack of affectionate warmth, or severe lack of communication between family members.” (Walsh, 2014) The parents and guardians of these participants were interviewed about how many childhood adversities their children faced until their 11th birthday. Very few of these participants were abused in any form but all of the participants exposed to childhood adversities suffered from conflicts between parents. Brain imaging showed that childhood adversities is associated with a decrease in the amount of gray matter a brain had in certain areas particularly the cerebellum. Brain imaging with persons who have psychological disorders usually show a decrease in the amount of gray matter in certain areas.  This suggests that being exposed to a family that does not get along in the early years most likely increases chances of having a psychological disorder in the future.



The Boulder Institute of Psychotherapy and Research hopes to reduce the amount of psychological disorders present in the community through parent education programs, early childhood interventions, parent-infant psychotherapy and by promoting healthy growing environments. Please contact BIPR for further information.


By: Kevin Jang

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