Shouting after a child or slapping him could change his brain, according to a Quebec study

Shouting at a child, spanking, slapping or shaking him / her on a regular basis could alter his / her brain circuits of fear, warns a study conducted by researchers at the Université de Montréal and CHU Sainte-Justine.
As a teenager, children who have experienced such “coercive parenting” will struggle to differentiate between what is scary and what is not, and find it difficult to identify their emotions, said the first author. study, postdoctoral researcher Valérie Alejandra La Buissonnière-Ariza.

This type of parenting practices causes changes in the functioning of their brains, especially with regard to fear and anxiety, she added in a statement.

There is also an impact on children’s behavior until adolescence.

“The study did not focus on behaviors that will take place once in a while,” said La Buissonnière-Ariza. It happens to everyone to raise their voice. We are really talking about people who will use this as a way of punishing their child on a regular basis. ”

Functional MRI scans of the young brain during a fear conditioning task showed marked differences in the way it dealt with fear.

The 84 subjects for whom researchers obtained valid imaging data participated in two Quebec longitudinal studies available through the Psychosocial Inadequacy Research Group for Children and the Institute for Statistics. Quebec. Half of them were victims of coercive parenting.

“Regardless of anxiety, youth who had high coercive parenting practices had poorer differentiation of fear versus safety signals at the level of the amygdala, a structure that is responsible for dealing with fear,” said La Buissonnière. -Ariza. We see that they have difficulty in differentiating what is threatening from what is not threatening. ”

In other words, she added, non-coercive youth were able to differentiate the scary stimulus from the reassuring stimulus, while youths who had been victims of coercive parenting treated both stimuli in the same way. .

The researchers also found differences in communication between the amygdala and the insula, a region of the brain that is inter alia involved in the treatment of visceral sensations, such as anxiety.

“A reduction in communication between these regions has been observed, for example, in people who suffer from depressive disorders or anxiety disorders,” said the researcher. There would be less emotional awareness in these children, they would be less aware of what they are experiencing. They will feel something, but they do not know what it is, they can not put it into words. ”

No young people were followed beyond the age of 16. Ms. La Buissonnière-Ariza admits that it would be relevant to push the research even further.

“Psychiatric pathologies often develop in early adulthood, in their early twenties,” she said. It would be very interesting to retest them in five years. ”

In the meantime, she calls for caution to parents.

“This research shows that coercive parenting may not be as harmless or benign as we think,” she warned. We can not establish a causal link or know what will happen later, but we clearly see that it is associated with changes in the brain.

“These are not practices that should be taken lightly. We will often minimize these practices, and again we do not talk about people who will lose patience from time to time because their child is unbearable. If this is your way of doing things with your child, even if it’s not easy, you should learn about other disciplinary techniques that might work better. ”

This study was supervised by Professor Franco Lepore from the Université de Montréal and Dr. Françoise Maheu from CHU Sainte-Justine, who received a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for this project. The findings are published by the medical journal Biological Psychology.

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