*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on MedicalXpress.
Repeatedly getting angry, hitting, shaking, or yelling at children is linked with smaller brain structures in adolescence, according to a new study published in Development and Psychology. The study was conducted by Sabrina Suffren, Ph.D., at Université de Montréal and the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre in partnership with researchers from Stanford University.
The harsh parenting practices covered by the study are common and even considered socially acceptable by most people in Canada and around the world.
Serious child abuse (such as sexual, physical, and emotional abuse), neglect, and even institutionalization have been linked to anxiety and depression later in life.
Previous studies have already shown that children who have experienced severe abuse have smaller prefrontal cortexes and amygdala, two structures that play a key role in emotional regulation and the emergence of anxiety and depression.
In this study, researchers observed that the same brain regions were smaller in adolescents who had repeatedly been subjected to harsh parenting practices in childhood, even though the children did not experience more serious acts of abuse.
“These findings are both significant and new. It’s the first time that harsh parenting practices that fall short of serious abuse have been linked to decreased brain structure size, similar to what we see in victims of serious acts of abuse,” said Suffren, who completed the work as part of her doctoral thesis at UdeM’s Department of Psychology, under the supervision of Professors Françoise Maheu and Franco Lepore.
This study is the first to try to identify the links between harsh parenting practices, children’s anxiety, and the anatomy of their brains.