Study links severe childhood deprivation to neuropsychological difficulties in adulthood

May 22, 2020

A team of researchers from the University of Southampton, the University of Bath and King's College London, have provided compelling evidence of the impact of adversity in childhood on neuropsychological functioning in adulthood. They also showed that neuropsychological difficulties may explain why early adversity is linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in later life.

Their study, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, analysed neuropsychological function in 70 young adults who were exposed to severely depriving conditions in Romanian orphanages during Nicolae Ceausescu's regime and subsequently adopted by British families. The adoptees were compared to 22 British adoptees of similar ages who had not suffered childhood deprivation.

As part of the research, the adoptees were asked to carry out tests to assess their neuropsychological functioning in five areas: controlling their responses (inhibitory control), prospective memory, decision-making, emotional recognition and cognitive ability (IQ). Prospective memory is the ability to remember to do something in the future, such as remembering to go to an appointment or what you need to buy if you don't have a shopping list. ADHD and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) symptoms were assessed through questionnaires completed by their parents.

The results showed that the Romanian adoptees had lower IQs and performed less well on the other four tests when compared to the adoptees who had not suffered deprivation. The adoptees with the lowest IQs and the greatest problems in prospective memory were more likely to show ADHD symptoms in adulthood than those without neuropsychological difficulties. The researchers found no direct link between ASD symptoms and neuropsychological performance.

The latest research is part of the wider English and Romanian Adoptees study, a collaborative study between the University of Southampton and King's College London which began shortly after the fall of the communist regime in Romania.

Children living in the institutions were subjected to extremely poor hygiene, insufficient food, little affection and no social or cognitive stimulation. The study analyses the mental health and brain development of 165 children who spent time in Romanian institutions and who were adopted by families in the UK when aged between two weeks and 43 months.

The principal investigator of the study is Professor Edmund Sonuga-Barke, who began the study whilst working at the University of Southampton and is now based at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King's College London.

Speaking of the latest research, Professor Sonuga-Barke said: "This study contributes to our changing understanding of the power of the early environment to shape brain development -showing that the effects of institutional deprivation on cognition can still be seen after more than twenty years of positive experience in high functioning and loving adoptive families leads us to acknowledge that there are limits to the brain's recuperative powers."

Dr Dennis Golm, Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Southampton, said: "The study highlights that institutional deprivation can have long-lasting effects on a range of neuropsychological functions that are important in everyday life, such as memory and general intellectual ability. Our findings also emphasise the importance of improving the quality of care for children in institutions."
-end-
Notes to Editors

The study "The impact of childhood deprivation on adult neuropsychological functioning is associated with ADHD symptom persistence" has been published with DOI https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033291720001294

For further information or interview requests, please contact Steve Bates, Media Relations Officer, University of Southampton. 07342 060429, s.d.bates@soton.ac.uk

University of Southampton

Related Mental Health Articles from Brightsurf:

Mental health strained by disaster
A new study found that suicide rates increase during all types of disasters -- including severe storms, floods, hurricanes and ice storms -- with the largest overall increase occurring two years after a disaster.

The mental health impact of pandemics for front line health care staff
New research shows the impact that pandemics have on the mental health of front-line health care staff.

World Mental Health Day -- CACTUS releases report of largest researcher mental health survey
On the occasion of 'World Mental Health Day' 2020, CACTUS, a global scientific communications company, has released a global survey on mental health, wellbeing and fulfilment in academia.

Mental illness, mental health care use among police officers
A survey study of Texas police officers examines how common mental illness and mental health care use are in a large urban department.

COVID-19 outbreak and mental health
The use of online platforms to guide effective consumption of information, facilitate social support and continue mental health care delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic is discussed in this Viewpoint.

COVID-19 may have consequences for mental health
The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be adversely affecting mental health among hospitalised patients, the healthcare professionals treating them and the general population.

Mental health outcomes among health care workers during COVID-19 pandemic in Italy
Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and insomnia among health care workers in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic are reported in this observational study.

Mental ill health 'substantial health concern' among police, finds international study
Mental health issues among police officers are a 'substantial health concern,' with around 1 in 4 potentially drinking at hazardous levels and around 1 in 7 meeting the criteria for post traumatic stress disorder and depression, finds a pooled data analysis of the available international evidence, published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Examining health insurance nondiscrimination policies with mental health among gender minority individuals
A large private health insurance database was used to examine the association between between health insurance nondiscrimination policies and mental health outcomes for gender minority individuals.

Mental health care for adolescents
Researchers examined changes over time in the kinds of mental health problems for which adolescents in the United States received care and where they got that care in this survey study with findings that should be interpreted within the context of several limitations including self-reported information.

Read More: Mental Health News and Mental Health Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.