Child abuse reduces the volume of grey matter in victims' brains, scientists say
Child abuse (Shutterstock)

A recent study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry concluded that child abuse contributes to a reduction in the volume of grey matter in the brains of its victims.

According to Lena Lim, Joaquim Radua, and Katya Rubia, child abuse -- or "childhood maltreatment," as it is called in their study -- leads to lifetime-long alteration in brain structure.

"Childhood maltreatment," they write, "acts as a severe stressor that produces a cascade of physiological and neurobiological changes that lead to enduring alterations in brain structure."

Using an imaging method that allows them to compare differences in brain anatomy between groups of individuals called "signed differential mapping," the researchers studied structures of 331 individuals with a history of child abuse, and 362 without.

They discovered that individuals who had suffered abuse had reduced brain matter in areas of the brain related to the cognitive process of decision-making.

The most salient reduction in grey matter volume among victims of child abuse occurred in the ventrolateral prefrontal and limbic-temporal regions -- areas of the brain linked to cognitive control.

These areas of the brain are late-developing, leading the researchers to suggest the lack of affect and difficulties with impulse control within the population of abuse victims may be directly correlated with the abuse itself.

"These findings show the serious consequences of adverse childhood environments on brain development," the researchers wrote.

"We hope the results of this study will help to reduce environmental risks during childhood and to develop treatments to stabilize these morphologic alterations."