Sexual, emotional abuse scar the brain in specific ways

Childhood emotional and sexual abuse mark women’s brains in distinct patterns — with emotional abuse affecting regions involved in self-awareness and sexual abuse affecting areas involved in genital sensation, according to new research.

The study links specific types of abuse with symptoms experienced by many survivors later in life.

The research, which was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, imaged the brains of 51 women in Atlanta who were taking part in a larger project on the effects of early trauma.

Twenty-eight of the participants had been seriously maltreated as children, suffering from various combinations of neglect and emotional, physical and sexual abuse. The other 23 experienced either no maltreatment or next to nothing. The women ranged in age from 18 to 45, but the average age was 27.

A standard questionnaire on childhood trauma was used to assess the women’s early-childhood experiences, and their brains were scanned to measure the thickness of various regions of the cortex.

Cortical thickness is linked to brain development, with thicker regions generally suggesting healthier growth. Brains, like muscles, develop through use — so regions that have been “exercised” more tend to be bigger.

Full story of sex and emotional abuse on the brain at CNN Health

Beedie Savage – President of Quantum Units Education

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Will Savage

Quantum Units Continuing Education provides online CEU training's to licensed professional mental health therapists, counselors, social workers and nurses. Our blog provides updates in the field of news and research related to mental health and substance abuse treatment.