In the early 1990’s Martin Teicher and a group of his research colleagues carried out intense research into how childhood abuse at a young age affects the brain of the developing child. The types of abuse associated with this research include physical, mental and emotional abuse, caused by maltreatment. The result of this abuse inflicted on a young, developing brain appears to cause a varying degree of psychological damage to the child, dependent on many factors.
This damage stems from the child’s critical stage of growth when the brain is receptive to influential and environmental stimuli in the process of gaining knowledge and experiences. If the stress levels are raised way above the norm at this fragile stage of development, then irreversible damage is inevitable to the neural area of the limbic system. The limbic system includes the amygdala, which is responsible for emotions relating to memories, and the hippocampus, which plays a key role in forming and storing memories. This damage to the limbic system may not show itself for many years, and every case will present differently. The damage caused by the stressful and unpleasant experience(s) can cause an array of physiological, functional and neurological problems, dependent on the impact of the abuse, genotype, personality, and presumably a number of other factors on many other complex levels. These dysfunctional problems may range from mentally internal disorders such as depression, neurosis or psychosis, to alternatively external disorders such as excessive anger, inability to relate to others and various personality disorders eg: multiple personality disorder.
In Teicher’s survey conducted of adults showing a history of child abuse, the results showed conclusive. Gender wasn’t an issue in this case, however EEG scans which monitor brain waves, showed us that those who experienced high stress trauma at a young age, rated higher in brain wave fluctuation than those who had never experienced trauma. Victims of incest suffered the most, showing 77% change in brain wave activity and they also unfortunately suffered seizures. One interesting aspect of the survey during MRI imagery, showed a positive correlation between early mistreatment and a shrinking of the hippocampus on the left side only. Continued intense research into this conveyed by Stein, Dreissen, and Bremner showed that the hippocampus is affected gradually by stress therefore it takes time for the affects to show and usually affects people as they age.
The damage caused by maltreatment today is becoming more complex, yet on the same token we have the technology to look closer and to understand the brain more intimately. More importantly though is the need for society to understand how the brain works and to be educated on how abuse affects development and the developing child. Perhaps if one could employ consultants in this area and send them out into society, then just maybe the chances of such abuse will lessen.