A new study published in the journal Brain and Behavior has established a possible link between interpersonal abuse before the age of 18 and lower cognitive abilities later in life.
Researcher say that people who have been subjected to such abuse could have lower capacity to concentrate and stay focused in their life. Some of the examples of interpersonal abuse are intimate partner abuse, adult survivors of child abuse, sexual assault, child abuse, bullying and elder abuse.
The inability to concentrate or stay focused was the result of abnormal connectivity in the brain – between the amygdala which is a core region for emotion and frontal areas that help maintain focus. The findings of the study are important for they provide us insights into the long-term impact of psychological trauma years, if not decades, after childhood.
“Trauma during one’s youth may not just cause difficulties with emotions later in life but may also impact day-to-day functioning like driving, working, education and relationships due to brain changes that stem from the trauma,” said Michael Esterman, Assistant Professor at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM).
For the study, the team compared two groups of young: One had a history of early life abuse, while the other did not. Both groups performed a concentration test while their brain activity was measured. The group that experienced trauma prior to 18 had worse concentration and abnormal communication between “emotional” regions (amygdala) and “attentional” regions of the brain (prefrontal cortex).
“Our results suggest that early psychological interventions could result in better cognitive abilities as an adult,” Esterman said.