Stress and neglect at home take an obvious toll on kids as they grow up. Many decades of research have documented the psychological consequences in adulthood, including struggles with depression and difficulties maintaining relationships. Now studies are finding that a troubled home life has profound effects on neural development.
Kids’ brains are exquisitely sensitive. Even sleeping infants are affected by family arguments, a new study concludes. Researchers at the University of Oregon showed with functional MRI scans that infants from families who reported more than the usual levels of conflict in the home were more sensitive to aggressive or angry voices. While asleep, these babies had an uptick in brain activity in response to sentences read in an angry tone of voice, with most of the activity clustered in the parts of the brain responsible for regulating emotions and stress.