Long-Term Impacts of Neglect: Altered Brain Structure
A study completed by the Boston Children’s Hospital indicates the brain structure of children who are subjected to neglect is measurably different than the brain structure of children who were not neglected.
About the Childhood Neglect Study
For the study, researchers compared children raised in Romanian state-run orphanages, which up until the late 1990’s had a reputation for failing to adequately care for children and participating in black market child trading, against children who were raised in average Romanian homes.
Among the information researchers compared were MRI scans of the children’s brains. The researchers found that the children who were raised in the orphanages, most of which averaged one adult per 12 children, had significantly lower grey matter volume and white matter volume in the cortex of their brains than the children who had been raised by normal families.
Further, driving home the idea that the effects of neglect are cumulative, the study found that when a child was adopted or removed from the orphanages in infancy, the child’s white matter volume was no different than that of a child who had always lived with a family. However, the child’s grey matter was still affected.
Importance of the Study
- To understand the significance of the study, it is important to understand the roles white matter and grey matter play in the human brain.
- White matter is responsible for relaying information between different parts of the brain. Grey matter is believed to be essential in control sensory perception and muscle control.
- Early childhood is the period in which grey matter growth occurs most. White matter tends to develop over a longer period spanning the majority of childhood.
- Once these pivotal periods of growth have ended, there is no going back; the child has already experienced a loss that will be with them for the rest of their lives