Impact of childhood violence on neural development


Adverse experiences in childhood can have lifelong consequences. An investigation looks into how they could impact neural development.

Research has shown that adverse experiences during childhood can have lifelong consequences. Present hypotheses argue that that those experiences impact dimensions that have distinct neural mechanisms. However, findings have been inconsistent. An investigation in JAMA Network Open offers more data on the subject.1

The researchers used a sparse network approach to find a large sample that included significant representation of understudied, underserved African American adolescents to participate in an observational, population-based longitudinal cohort study. The adolescents had participated in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study and lived in one of 3 cities: Detroit, Michigan; Toledo, Ohio; and Chicago, Illinois. Data on the environment from birth to adolescence were collect through telephone or in-person interviews. Neuroimaging data were collected at the university lab.

There were 183 adolescents who were eligible for inclusion and 175 were included in the study. The average age of the participant was 15.88 years and 73% of the participants were African American. The researchers found that teenagers with high violence exposure were 3.06 times more likely (95% CI, 1.17-8.92) to be included in a subgroup that was characterized by low network (sparsity) and high heterogeneity (few shared connections). They also found that exposure to violence in childhood, but not social deprivation was linked with reduced rsFC density (β = −0.25; 95% CI, −0.41 to −0.05; P = .005), which meant fewer salience network-default mode connections (β = −0.20; 95% CI, −0.38 to −0.03; P = .02) and fewer salience network connections (β = −0.26; 95% CI, −0.43 to −0.08; P = .005). Additionally, violence exposure was linked to left inferior parietal lobule (β = −0.26; 95% CI, −0.44 to −0.09; P = .003) and node degree of right anterior insula (β = −0.29; 95% CI, −0.47 to −0.12; P = .001).

The investigators concluded that being exposed to violence during childhood was linked with adolescent neural network sparsity. They believe that the finding could impact understanding how elements of certain adverse childhood experiences could influence the neural development of a child.


1. Goetschius L, Hein T, McLanahan S et al. Association of childhood violence exposure with adolescent neural network density. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(9):e2017850. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.17850

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