Research from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences is developing some provocative theories on the impact of early life stress (ELS) on adults.
A number of issues, from sexual abuse to neglect and emotional abuse typify ELS. Sometimes losing a parent at a young age will cause ELS. All children react differently to ELS – some have extreme reactions while others seem unfazed. For those impacted the worst, depression later in life is often the byproduct of ELS.
Research from Arkansas is focused on neurological markers that help differentiate one person’s risk against another’s. Researchers looked at imaging scans of women aged 18 to 44. In the two groups that experienced ELS, some did not show any signs of depression, some had a history of depression. A control group had neither depression nor ELS experience.
Studying the MRIs, researchers found differences in the neurological indices in each group. The women who experienced the most traumatic ELS experiences as youths and were more vulnerable to depression later in life showed discernable differences in their MRIs, particularly in the amygdala. The amygdala is the area of the brain responsible for emotional reactions and memory processing.
Why Negative Reactions Can Linger
Women with affected amygdalas will typically take longer to process various forms of information, which means they can have a negative reaction linger for a much longer period than those whose amygdalas were unaffected.
The amygdala is the emotional processor in the brain, which is why it makes sense that the MRI would show significant differences in people affected deeply by depression, including those who experienced ELS to a severe degree.
Long-term memories aren’t stored in the amygdala, which means the young mind isn’t holding on to negative experiences into adulthood, however, researchers believe that the amygdala is responsible for regulating memory consolidation in other areas of the brain.