Could childhood stress affect brain areas important for cognitive processes?

In a recent study conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, researchers found that stress could be the cause of delays in children’s brain development by reducing white and grey matter important for cognitive processes. BIPR’s efforts to facilitate children’s successful neurological development  include Zero to Five Services, child psychotherapy services and Therapeutic Preschool Services at the Connections Classroom. The Zero to Five program offers assessment services for young children that can identify stress-based socio-emotional or cognitive concerns. After assessment, these children can be placed in therapy or therapeutic preschool to reduce this stress and encourage healthy brain development.

Without intervention, stress could reduce the volumes of both white and grey matter, responsible for connecting different parts of the brain and processing. Through brain scans and short-term memory assessments of children, researchers at UW-Madison showed that reduction of the anterior cingulate, part of the prefrontal cortex linked to spatial working memory, was linked to stress. Interviews with children ages 9 to 14 also contributed to the researchers’ findings. The research revealed that older children that had been experiencing stressful situations for longer did not necessarily have higher levels of stress than younger children. However, despite the researchers’ discovery of this correlation between stress and decreased volumes of certain parts of the brain, they emphasized that these effects are not necessarily permanent. As Jamie Hanson, psychology graduate student at UW-Madison, explained, “we don’t understand whether this is just a delay in development or a lasting difference. It could be that, because the brain is very plastic, very able to change, that children who have experienced a great deal of stress catch up in these areas.”

To learn more about this fascinating association of stress with reduced brain matter, read the following article:

Stress May Delay Brain Development in Early Years

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