According to a new study, veterans with a history of physical or sexual abuse or witnessing family violence before the age of 18 have a reduced ability to concentrate compared to veterans who were not abused.
Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and the Translational Research Center for TBI and Stress Disorders at the VA Boston Healthcare System compared two groups of young veterans. One group 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).
The amygdala is a core region for emotion, and frontal areas that help maintain focus.
The study, which appears in the journal Brain and Behavior, offers a new perspective on 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,” explained senior author Michael Esterman, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at BUSM and associate director of the VA Boston Neuroimaging Center.
“Our results suggest that early psychological interventions could result in better cognitive abilities as an adult.”
According to the researchers, this study suggests that interpersonal abuse before 18 can have dramatic and long-lasting effects on brain development that are only now beginning to be understood.