Maltreatment of children may stunt growth of the hippocampus, a brain region vital for memory. That's the conclusion of a study of 193 outwardly healthy adults aged 18 to 25 from the Boston area.It would be great if this were really true, and child abuse could be diagnosed with brain scans. An objective test would end the horrible disputes over child abuse, just as DNA tests have ended the disputes over paternity.
The stunted hippocampi could help explain how childhood stress raises the risk of psychiatric disorders in adulthood, ranging from depression, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder to personality disorders, drug addiction and even suicide.
Martin Teicher of McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, and colleagues used standard questionnaires to reveal which volunteers had suffered abuse as children, and found size differences in regions of the hippocampus through detailed MRI brain scans.
Big differences were seen in people who said that as children they had experienced verbal, physical or sexual abuse, physical or emotional neglect, bereavement, parental separation or parental discord. Three sub-regions of the hippocampus were between 5.8 and 6.5 per cent smaller in such volunteers, compared with those who reported no maltreatment.
(Yes, I know that there are men who are paying child support even after DNA tests prove that they are not the dads. But that inequity is obvious to everyone, and should be on the way out.)
But we are not going to get brain scans for child abuse anytime soon. The scientific literature is filled with exaggerated claims about brain scans. The cannot diagnose schizophrenia, depression, homosexuality, or anything else like that from brain scans. Instead these studies will just be used to emphasize the importance of fighting child abuse. The court testimony will be something like this:
CPS: We have to take the child because science has proved that this child abuse causes permanent brain damage.
Q: How do you know it causes brain damage?
CPS: Studies of brain scans have proved it.
Q: So how much damage do the brain scans show on this kid?
CPS: Nothing so far. That's why we have to take the kid now.
The judges are stupid (and evil) enough to fall for an argument like this.