Adversity during the first six years of life was associated with higher levels of childhood internalising symptoms, such as depression and anxiety, in a group of boys, as well as altered brain structure in late adolescence between the ages of 18 and 21, according to an article by Sarah KG Jenson and Dr Edward Barker of the Department of Psychology, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London.
The study included a group of 494 mother-son pairs whose mothers reported on family adversities encountered by their sons to age six. Mothers also reported on levels of internalising symptoms (depressive and/or anxiety) when the boys were ages 7, 10 and 13. Imaging data from MRIs was collected in late adolescence.
The authors found that among the 494 men included in the analysis, early adversity was associated with alterations in brain structure. Childhood internalizing symptoms were associated with lower gray matter volume in a brain region. Early adversity was associated with higher levels of internalising symptoms, which in turn were associated with a region of lower gray matter volume, which is an example of an indirect effect, according to the results.
According to the lead author, Sarah KG Jensen, “The finding that childhood experiences can affect the brain highlights early childhood not only as a period of vulnerability but also a period of opportunity. Interventions toward adversity might help to prevent children from developing internalising symptoms and protect against abnormal brain development”.