Vulnerability and resilience of the childhood brain

6th Oct 2017

A twin study with over 11,000 participants has suggested that the psychological effects of childhood bullying could heal over time.

Stressful life experiences have long since been implicated in many mental health disorders, leading to chronic activation of our stress response. In periods where the brain is still developing, such as in childhood and adolescence, the brain is particularly susceptible to such stressors.

To explore the impact of stress in early life, researchers at University College London assessed the impact of bullying on aspects of mental health including anxiety, depression, hyperactivity and impulsivity in children aged between 11 and 16.

The longitudinal analysis revealed that whilst childhood bullying contributed significantly to anxiety disorders after two years, this didn’t persist five years later. In contrast, bullying contributed to the development of other mental health issues such as paranoid thoughts which persisted for up to five years.

As the largest study of its kind to date, the authors speculate that their data reveal crucial information about childhood resilience to bullying, and provide further evidence of the plasticity of the developing brain.

Previous studies have also demonstrated a dose-dependent relationship between the number of so-called adverse childhood experiences, such as verbal and sexual abuse or early parental loss, and the incidence of mental health disorders in later life. Interestingly, this has also been linked to increased incidences of other disorders such as lung cancer and cardiovascular complications.


Full details of the childhood bullying study by Singham et al. can be found at here.

A brilliant TED talk on the effect of adverse childhood experiences on the developing brain can be watched here.




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