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A recent study proved that traumatic childhood may lead to greater violence in adulthood

2023.04.16 04:09:32 USung Hwang

[Women Crying, photo credit to Pexels]

A recent study from R. Sansone, Justin Leung, M. Wiederman supports the discovery that childhood trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to affect people even as they live their lives as adults by leading to frequent aggression.

There has been a recent prison release of a child abuser, intensifying the discovery. 

Eight-year-old boy Tony Hudgell has been constantly abused by his birth parents, and his legs were amputated when he was only 41 days old.

His parents were sentenced to prison for ten years in February 2018.

Although many expressed that harsher punishment was necessary for this extreme child cruelty, ten years was the maximum since the victim was alive. 

Even in the event that the child had died, the maximum sentence would only be extended by four years. 

As a response to Tony’s adoptive family, new changes have been made under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 with the name of “Tony’s Law”.

This states that in a case like Tony's, the maximum imprisonment is 14 years, and if a child dies, it would be a life sentence.

The new changes heightened the significance of the results of the previous study, Five Forms of Childhood Trauma: Relationships With Aggressive Behaviour in Adulthood, since victims of child abuse like Tony not only suffer physically but also mentally for their whole life.

Five Forms of Childhood Trauma: Relationships With Aggressive Behaviour in Adulthood, published in September 13th, 2012 explores the concept of epigenetics by investigating the correlation between five types of childhood trauma and the number of aggressive behaviours in adulthood. 

First discovered in 1942 by embryologist Conrad Waddington, epigenetics is comparatively new in the field of sciences. 

Epigenetics suggests that extreme environmental impact may lead to methylation and acetylation in the nucleosome, further affecting the gene expression.

Methylation and acetylation is the attachment of methyl and acetyl chemical tags onto the DNA strand of the nucleosomes.

Nucleosomes are composed of an octet of histone proteins wrapped around with DNA strand.

The wrapping of DNA strands allows DNA to supercoil in order to facilitate the transport of DNA in humans’ bodies. 

As the gene expression is altered, the phenotype — the observable traits of an individual — is also affected.

Consequently, the rise of epigenetics greatly influenced the on-going debate on “nature vs nurture.”

Ford et al., (2007) suggests that there is a strong link between childhood trauma and increased risk of violence due to the epigenetics.

The relationship between the two variables was more evident in traumas including abuse, neglect, and conflicts between individuals.

Even worse, childhood trauma may also lead to psychosis (when one loses contact with  reality) and other forms of antisocial behaviours such as stealing, physical assault, lying, duplicity, or manipulating others for personal gain. 

In the neural aspect, scientists examined the hippocampus and the amygdala to discover the cause of the relationship between the psychosis and childhood trauma.

Hippocampus is a brain region situated in the temporal lobe and is associated with memory. 

Amygdala is a pair of almond-shaped brain regions that processes fearful and threatening stimuli as well as encodes memories with strong emotional stimuli. 

Another significant function of the amygdala is the detection of threat and activation of an appropriate response. 

The two regions of the brain are known to regulate hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis: a major neuroendocrine system responsible for regulation of stress, mood and other bodily processes including digestion and immune system. 

HPA axis dysregulation has been present in both early life trauma and psychosis, supporting the strong correlation between the two. 

The European Psychiatric Association also states that those who suffer from depression and anxiety with traumatic childhood are more likely to grow up as violent adults. 

The association adds as the severity of the trauma increases, the violence in the adult also increases. 

The issues with personal mental health and social interactions among the patients causes a significant problem when treating their depression and anxiety. 

Unfortunately, the relationship between the childhood trauma and aggressive behaviours in adulthood merely remains as a correlation.

This means that it cannot be stated that childhood trauma directly causes aggression in adulthood. 

However, it will be important to further investigate the influence of epigenetics on aggression as it may be significant in lawsuits regarding criminal behaviours caused due to genetic influences. 

An example is prisoners not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRIs) who are found to have an impaired mental health during the crime, and have caused the crime due to an uncontrollable impulsive behaviour. 

Moreover, epigenetics could lead to epigenetics discrimination, in which one is discriminated against due to their family link or their history in early life. 

In conclusion, many scientists state that more studies should be conducted not only to reduce the stereotypes against epigenetics but also to use it as an advantage to improve one’s phenotype. 

USung Hwang / Grade 11
Seoul Foreign School