The effects of child abuse and neglect on cognitive functioning in adulthood

J Psychiatr Res. 2012 Apr;46(4):500-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2012.01.005. Epub 2012 Feb 14.


Aims: Recent research has revealed that early life trauma (ELS), including abuse (sexual and/or physical) and neglect, produce lasting changes in the CNS. We posited that cognitive deficits, often observed in psychiatric patients, result, in part, due to the neurobiological consequences of ELS. Additionally, we hypothesized that the nature and magnitude of cognitive deficits would differ according to the subtype of ELS experienced.

Method: The Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB) was used to assess neurocognitive functioning in 93 subjects (60 with ELS and 33 without). In the patients with a history of ELS, 35% and 16.7%, respectively, met criteria for current major depression and PTSD.

Results: Significant associations between ELS status and CANTAB measures of memory and executive and emotional functioning were found.

Conclusions: These data suggest that exposure to ELS results in a cascade of neurobiological changes associated with cognitive deficits in adulthood that vary according to the type of trauma experienced.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / etiology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Self Report
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult