Resilience against mistreatment may be rooted in the brain, according to new research from McLean Hospital—an important development in the search for biological clues behind conditions that spur from childhood trauma. The study of 342 young adults, over half of whom had experienced maltreatment as a child, found that brain alterations that typically occur across individuals who had been mistreated were actually increased in those who did not experience psychiatric symptoms.

“Interestingly, resilient individuals had additional abnormalities in specific brain regions that reduced their susceptibility to different types of psychiatric symptoms,” explains Kyoko Ohashi, PhD, the study’s lead author. “Maltreated individuals without psychiatric symptoms are not unaffected or immune. Rather, they have additional brain changes that enable them to effectively compensate.”

Maltreatment during childhood is generally understood to be a major risk factor for anxiety, depression, addiction, and suicide, though it is less understood why some individuals appear more resilient against these outcomes. The new McLean research suggests that these additional changes in some maltreated children’s brains may help compensate for these effects by reducing the efficiency of information transfer in those brain regions responsible for psychiatric symptoms.

“These are important findings as they provide a radically new perspective on resilience,” notes Dr. Ohashi.

More on the study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, here.

Topics: Behavioral Health

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