Trauma linked to earlier puberty, premature brain development, and mental illness

Growing up in poverty and experiencing traumatic events like a bad accident or sexual assault can impact brain development and behavior in children and young adults. Low socioeconomic status (L-SES) and the experience of traumatic stressful events (TSEs) were linked to accelerated puberty and brain maturation, abnormal brain development, and greater mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and psychosis, according to a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry. The research was conducted by a team from Perelman School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia through the Lifespan Brain Institute.

young person sits forlornly on couch.

“The findings underscore the need to pay attention to the environment in which the child grows. Poverty and trauma have strong associations with behavior and brain development, and the effects are much more pervasive than previously believed,” says the study’s lead author Raquel E. Gur, a professor of psychiatry, neurology, and radiology, and director of the Lifespan Brain Institute.

Parents and educators are split into opposing camps with regard to the question of how childhood adversity affects development into mature, healthy adulthood.

The researchers analyzed data from the Philadelphia Neurodevelopmental Cohort, which included 9,498 participants aged 8 to 21 years for the study. The racially and economically diverse cohort includes data on SES, TSEs, neurocognitive performance, and in a subsample, multimodal neuroimaging taken via MRI.

The researchers found specific associations of SES and TSE with psychiatric symptoms, cognitive performance, and several brain structure abnormalities.

Read more at Penn Medicine News.