It's well known that experiencing or even just witnessing abuse as a child can have a significant effect on a person's development, and now researchers are looking into exactly how violence changes children's brains. A new study found that children who've been exposed to violence at home have such a profound reaction to the abuse that their brains function like soldiers who've been exposed to combat.

Reuters reports that in a study conducted by at University College London, researchers scanned the brains of 20 children who've been exposed to violence at home, and 23 who haven't, using functional MRI. While in the scanner the children, who had an average age of 12, were shown photos of people with sad, calm, or angry expressions. Children who had been exposed to violence had more brain activity in the anterior insula and amygdala while looking at angry faces. Previous studies found that soldiers who've been exposed to violence have similar responses to the test.

The study, which was published in Current Biology, concluded that both soldiers and children exposed to violence may have adapted to become "hyper-aware" of potential threats. While recognizing anger may be able to protect the subjects when they're in a dangerous situation, lead researcher Eamon McCrory says it may explain why they're more likely to develop mental health issues years later when they aren't being threatened. Other studies have found that children who grow up around abuse are more likely to develop anxiety disorders and depression, and don't respond as well to treatement. McCrory says psychologists are still trying to figure out how abuse "gets under the skin and increases a child's later vulnerability, even into adulthood." Understanding how this type of trauma changes the brain is the first step to figuring out more effective ways to undo the damage later in life.

Study Finds How Child Abuse Changes The Brain [Reuters]

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