The Study :
This research studied 125 teenagers who lived in (adoptive) loving and stable families BUT had, as infants, lived in the NEGLECTFUL ENVIRONMENT of ROMANIAN ORPHANAGES (renowned for their extremely poor conditions).
The Findings :
Using brain scanning technology, it was found that these teenagers had brains which contained LESS WHITE MATTER than the brains of a comparison group of comparable teenagers who lived in similar family environments BUT HAD NOT LIVED IN ROMANIAN ORPHANAGES AS INFANTS.
The brain’s white matter is involved in learning and facilitates the communication between different brain regions ; it is located deep within the brain. (Its volume can also be depleted as a result of excessive use of alcohol and aging.)
Above : Brain scans showing anatomical differences between the brain of a normal three-year-old and that of a three-year-old who has experienced extreme neglect.
It is suggests that the SENSORY DEPRIVATION that the teenagers experienced as infants in the appalling conditions in which they were kept (‘caretakers’ worked in factory- like shifts and the infants might have up to 17 such carers each week, thus depriving them of sustained, one-to-one, loving contact), anatomically, adversely affected brain regions involved in :
– cognitive processing
– emotional processing
Specifically, Which Brain Regions Were Damaged?
PET scans (PET scans – or positron emission topography scans – are a type of brain scan) revealed that the main regions of the brain that were damaged by this early life neglect and deprivation were :
– the amygdala
– parts of the hippocampus
– the brain stem
– parts of the prefrontal cortex
– the orbital frontal gyrus
The PET scan revealed that all of the above brain regions had abnormal activity in the teenagers who had lived in the Romanian orphanage during their early lives compared to the comparison group of teenagers.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
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