Childhood Trauma Tied to Greater Social Dysfunction in Adults with Major Mental Illness

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The findings help us gain a better understanding of the links between a traumatic early social environment and subsequent social cognitive problems and greater illness severity for a range of major psychiatric disorders in adulthood.

The first three years of life are a very sensitive period for the development of attachment relationships, and exposure to trauma during this time has irreversible effects on future cognitive, social, and emotional development.

The association between childhood adversity and insecure attachment is supported by a number of studies. Once a dysfunctional attachment pattern is formed in childhood, it tends to persist later in life and can cause misperceptions of others’ intentions and beliefs.

Higher levels of threat vigilance can distract abuse victims from processing peripheral cognitive and social information, and the lack of stable, positive role models can interfere with their ability to recognize and respond to emotional cues.

The researchers hope the new findings will guide future public health efforts to develop clinical interventions that reduce the consequences of childhood trauma.

“With a better understanding of the connections between early trauma and later deficits, mental health clinicians may be able to develop strategic interventions that ameliorate patients’ disabilities and improve their quality of life. The fact that these deficits are not generally improved by antipsychotic medication makes social cognition an important treatment target and the development of a causal working model of the deficits of crucial importance,” Donohoe said.

The study involved a systematic assessment of more than 2,650 published papers on the topic to provide a comprehensive picture of current research.

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