Why victims of childhood adversity have a harder time achieving their goals

Childhood trauma can affect a child's brain in dramatic ways for the rest of their lives.

  • New findings suggest that childhood adversity may be directly linked to depression.
  • Adverse childhood experiences include a wide range of stressful or traumatic events brought upon by abuse and neglect.
  • Important landmark studies from the '90s suggest that these experiences are common and lead to a number of health, social and behavioral problems throughout life.

Much research has gone into defining and learning about adverse childhood experiences (ACE). These types of experiences include abuse, witnessing domestic violence or growing up in an environment with family members who have substance abuse disorders. Researchers say that ACEs are strongly correlated with the development of a wide range of health problems throughout an individual's life.

When children are exposed to chronic stress, neurodevelopment is disrupted and new unhealthy coping mechanisms may arise out of this. Over time these develop into mental illnesses, disabilities and other assorted problems. This said, new research published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience in October suggests that there is, indeed, a connection between childhood adversity and depression.

Parameters of the study

In the new study, researchers were concerned with an important part of cognitive control that is known as inhibitory control – that is, the ability to inhibit one's natural impulses to stimuli to select, instead, behaviors that are more in line with completing goals.

Researchers stated that:

Cognitive control impairment is associated with depression and has been observed in the remitted phase of illness.

In order to test their hypothesis regarding the connection, they gathered 53 individuals with a remitted major depressive disorder along with 40 non-depressive healthy individuals for their control.

The participants of the study took a Go/No-Go task, which is a computerized test meant to assess inhibitory control. They were also asked to complete a survey on childhood adversity and any current stresses they were facing. Additionally, they all underwent fMRI scanning sessions overviewing their gray matter volumes and resting state brain connectivity.

The researchers found that participants who reported higher level of childhood adversity tended to exhibit poorer inhibitory control. This was true in both groups even after controlling for depression symptoms and current stressors.

Lead researcher Scott. A Langenecker of the University of Utah, found that childhood adversity was tied into and associated with three major brain networks:

  • Cognitive control network
  • Salience and emotion network
  • Default mode network

In an interview with the PsyPost, Langenecker stated:

We know that depression is different for each person, and for some it is a recurrent, chronic illness somewhat like diabetes. We should be asking critical questions of our health care systems, insurance companies and providers about how we can better maintain wellness and prevent recurrence.

Relationship between ACEs and risk factors for disease

There have been many studies throughout the years describing the connection between ACEs and disease. In a landmark study between 1995 to 1997, over 17,000 participants were gathered and tested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in partnership with Kaiser Permanente.

The results were as follows:

ACES are common, with 28 percent of the participants reporting some kind of physical or sexual abuse. Many also reported that experiencing a divorce or parental separation resulted in some kind mental disorder or substance abuse.

The recent research pointed to a similar conclusion:

Treatment can be preventative and does not need to be reactive. Higher levels of care and proactive prevention can reduce bad outcomes (like relationship problems and divorce, education difficulties, low work productivity and quality — presenteeism — and risk for suicide).

Now that the connection between childhood adversity, lessened inhibitory control and depression have been confidently linked – this opens up the way for future ways of treatment. The authors ended out their study with the following conclusion:

Our finding of an association between CA (childhood adversity) and inhibitory control impairment, independent of diagnosis, suggests that future research on the role of inhibitory control impairment in depression should consider the influence of CA. Finally, given research suggesting that impairment in cognitive control is associated with a distinct course of illness and response to treatment, future research may benefit from examining whether CA, and associated inhibitory control impairment, contributes to a distinct course of depression.

Got a question for a real NASA astronomer? Ask it here!

NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller is coming back to Big Think to answer YOUR questions! Here's all you need to know to submit your science-related inquiries.

Videos

Big Think's amazing audience has responded so well to our videos from NASA astronomer and Assistant Director for Science Communication Michelle Thaller that we couldn't wait to bring her back for more!

And this time, she's ready to tackle any questions you're willing to throw at her, like, "How big is the Universe?", "Am I really made of stars?" or, "How long until Elon Musk starts a colony on Mars?"

All you have to do is submit your questions to the form below, and we'll use them for an upcoming Q+A session with Michelle. You know what to do, Big Thinkers!

Keep reading Show less

Why eating ice cream is linked to shark attacks

Why are soda and ice cream each linked to violence? This article delivers the final word on what people mean by "correlation does not imply causation."

popular
  • Ice cream consumption is actually linked to shark attacks.
  • But the relationship is correlative, not causal.
  • It's pretty stunning how media outlets skip over this important detail.
Keep reading Show less
Change.org
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The tongue-in-cheek petition, whose stated aim is to reduce the national debt, has been signed more than 8,600 times as of Tuesday.
  • Selling Montana, the fourth largest state in the country, would constitute the largest land deal since the Louisiana Purchase.
  • The national debt is often a source of concern for individuals, but the chances of the U.S. defaulting on its debts are relatively low — in part because the bulk of the national debt is owned by the American public.
Keep reading Show less

The answer to Skynet? A democratically controlled supermind.

The plan to stop megacorps from owning superintelligence is already underway.

Videos
  • A.I. technology is often developed within the proprietary silos of big tech companies. What if there was an open, decentralized hub for A.I. developers to share their creations? Enter SingularityNET.
  • The many A.I.s in the network could compete with each other to provide services for users but they could also cooperate, giving way to an emergent-level mind: artificial general intelligence.
  • SingularityNET is powered by blockchain technology, meaning whatever 'digital organism' emerges will not be owned or controlled by any one person, company or government.
Keep reading Show less