New psychology research shows early life stress doesn’t have to be extreme to affect emotional processing

New research provides evidence that experiences of early life stress are associated with atypical responses towards emotional facial expressions in adulthood. The findings have been published in the journal Development and Psychopathology.

“One of the things that drives me as a researcher is how we can improve the experiences of people with mental illness, by developing better treatments and clearer knowledge of these health conditions,” explained Elizabeth Kirkham (@EK_Neuro), a research associate at the University of Edinburgh and the corresponding author of the study.

“Early life stress and trauma are a huge factor in the development of mental illness later in life – I think society in general is still not aware of how close the relationship between early stress and later health (mental and physical) really is. If we can understand more about early life stress then we can understand more about how mental illness develops, which in turn will help us find better ways of reducing the suffering of people living with mental health conditions.”

In the study, 395 participants completed the Child Abuse and Trauma Scale after being shown photographs depicting angry, happy, and neutral facial expressions. The participants indicated the extent to which they would approach the person in the image and the extent to which they would avoid the person.

The researchers found that participants who experienced more stressful life events in childhood and adolescence tended to be less avoidant of people with angry facial expressions.

“Our results were surprising — that early life stress is associated with reduced, not increased, avoidance of anger in people with no signs of mental ill health. This is the opposite of what we expected,” Kirkham told PsyPost.

But Kirkham said the findings indicate that early life stress “doesn’t have to be extreme to affect emotional processing. Very few of the people in our study had histories of extreme trauma or neglect, yet the stress that they did experience as children was linked to both their mental health and their responses to emotional information as adults.”

“This is important when we think about our social environment — investing in the quality of children’s early life is likely to pay dividends later on in terms of the health of the wider society.”

The relationship between early life stress and reduced avoidance of angry facial expressions was not found among participants who showed signs of depression and anxiety. More depressed participants, however, did tend to be more avoidant of happy facial expressions.

“We were also surprised that that was no relationship between early life stress and avoidance of anger amongst people with evidence of mental illness, even though the expected relationship between depression and avoidance of happy facial expressions was present,” Kirkham said.

“Therefore it’s important that additional work is carried out to examine what is going on here and why the effects of early life stress are different from what might have been predicted from previous research. I suspect it might be connected to the fact that previous research has focused on children with extreme early life stress, whereas we focused on adults with relatively low levels of early life stress.”

“I’d be very happy to hear from researchers or students who share my interest in early life stress and its effects on the adult brain. There’s still a lot to be discovered within this field,” Kirkham added.

The study, “Early life stress is associated with reduced avoidance of threatening facial expressions“, was authored by Elizabeth J. Kirkham and Liat Levita.

Early Childhood Trauma Can Affect Your Health Later In Life


admin — December 13, 2018

A recent survey has shown that half of people who live in New Hampshire have experienced a traumatic event at some point in their lives. Studies have shown that people who experience trauma early in their lives are more likely to have health problems later on down the road.

Ten percent of people who did not have a traumatic experience in childhood were in poor health. Seventeen percent of people who had a traumatic experience had poor health. Traumatic experiences include things such as witnessing domestic violence, abuse, neglect and having a relative with a substance abuse problem.

According to, the survey showed that nearly half of people had at least one of those experiences. Women were more likely to have a traumatic experience. The survey showed that 53 percent of women, and 46 percent of men had a traumatic childhood experience. Additionally, 62 percent of the people who had four or more traumatic experiences were women.

The more traumatic experiences a person had, the more likely they were to have poor health. They were also more likely to use drugs and alcohol. Patricia Tilley is the deputy director of the State Division of Public Health Services. She stated that childhood trauma is a public health issue that needs to be addressed.

Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen are two Democratic senators in New Hampshire. They hope that they will be able to create policies that address this issue. Jeanne stated that we are not spending money where it really matters.

Maggie’s mother is a school teacher. She asked her mother why students still struggle in the classroom despite the fact that they are very intelligent. Maggie’s mother stated that every child needs to know that they have an adult in their corner.

Officials stated that the results of the study illustrate the importance of helping children and adults who have suffered trauma. Adults who have mental health problems are more likely to abuse drugs and have mental problems.


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What Happens When Repressed Memories of Trauma Begin to Resurface

alyssa  •  July 5, 2019

The impact of recovering memories that have been repressed for years can be a debilitating process in your trauma healing. They have been repressed for a reason; that reason being that when a person goes through significant trauma, the brain shuts down, dissociation takes over and as a survival technique, the trauma(s) get unconsciously blocked and tucked away from you and stored into disorganized files in your brain due to a high level of stress, or you were in a situation where you felt threatened and it was a matter of life or death – so your mind did what it had to in order to keep you safe, and therefore you could go on and have the ability to live your life and function in society.

Repressed memories can come back to you in various ways, including having a trigger, nightmares, flashbacks, body memories and somatic/conversion symptoms. This can lead to feelings of denial, shame, guilt, anger, hurt, sadness, numbness and so forth.

Having new memories come up can affect your current state of reality, your relationships, your perception of the world and of those around you, which can take you back to the past and keep you stuck there, making you feel as though you are re-living the trauma all over again. It can destabilize you and your life, and may be followed by dissociation, depersonalization/derealization and dissociative amnesia. It can make you see “safe” people as “unsafe,” and while you’re stuck in those memories, nothing and no one may feel safe – not even yourself. This can then lead to isolation, avoidance, low self-care and a war within your mind and your body.

Your body can react in ways that it did back then which can be both new for you, and extremely frightening. You may find yourself going into the fight, flight, freeze, flop or fawn responses at what you think are minuscule things. Your memories may come through in re-enactment behaviors. You may find yourself repeating behaviors that relate to your traumas. However your memories come back to you is valid. However you and your body respond to your memories coming up are valid. Your feelings towards your memories are valid – and all of this is OK. You are OK, and you are safe now.

When repressed memories come up, it is important to try and understand the biology behind it – why they’re coming up at this point in time, how you can work with them, learn to trust yourself and what your mind and body are trying to tell you, and how you can manage your safety and wellbeing as you’re working through them. Try to acknowledge what is happening for you and validate your past experiences, learn and identify your triggers, and allow yourself to sit with the feelings that are coming up. Ground yourself in your current reality,“It is 2019, I am in xx years old, I live with __ now, I am safe.” Differentiate between your reality and your memories and work on staying present and grounded, and give yourself permission to be kind to yourself during this process. Communicate your experiences with a trusted therapist. Allow space for vulnerability. Be gentle and compassionate towards yourself.

Trauma recovery isn’t linear – you might have all of your memories of your trauma, and you might have none. You might not have memories, but it may still be affecting you subconsciously. You might have scattered jigsaw pieces of different traumas and not the full puzzle, and that’s OK too. Your repressed memories come to you when you are finally ready to deal with them.They are not there to hurt you or ruin the life you have created for yourself – they are there to tell you what happened to you, to help you make sense of why things are the way that they are, that it’s time to work with them and that you are safe enough to do so.