Trauma, Violence, and the Brain

Trauma, Violence, and the Brain

Sometimes we see violence in adults and youth and we write them off as bad people with no conscience or concern for other people.

However, violence can often be attributed to early trauma and abuse affecting the development of certain parts of the brain. A violent adult may have experienced so much abuse, neglect, or trauma in their youth that they are constantly in a state of hypervigilance and emotionally aggressive arousal because of their environment, never being able to be able to develop the coping skills needed to regulate their emotions to the appropriate situation.

Below is a map of the areas of the brain stunted by trauma and how they can lead to a more aggressive adult.

The Areas of the Brain Affected by Trauma

Frontal Cortex

Some studies on adolescents and adults who were severely neglected as children indicate they have a smaller prefrontal cortex, which is critical to behavior, cognition, and emotion regulation.

Corpus Callosum

Maltreated children and adolescents tend to have decreased volume in the corpus callosum, which is the largest white matter structure in the brain and is responsible for interhemispheric communication and other processes.


Adults who were maltreated may have reduced volume in the hippocampus, which is central to learning and memory.


Maltreated children and adolescents tend to have decreased volume in the cerebellum, which helps coordinate motor behavior and executive functioning.


Abuse and neglect can cause overactivity in this area of the brain, which helps determine whether a stimulus is threatening and trigger emotional responses.

Sometimes violence is the only mechanism a youth knows. Studies have shown that when a child has been exposed to traumatic experienced the brain does not develop in the same way .

Trauma affects all areas of someone’s life, including difficulty to:

  • Process information
  • Distinguish between threatening and nonthreatening situations
  • Form appropriate relationships with adults
  • Self-regulate emotional states

Early trauma causes:

  • Excess cortisol (stress hormone) in the bloodstream, which negatively affects brain development. This also can lead to a decreased ability to regulate it by adulthood
  • Triggering the body’s “alarm system” in situations not warranting that reaction
  • Impairment of executive functions, attention and concentration, leading to issues in school and learning in general

Mercy Home offers services to cope with the problems caused by early trauma, including counseling, tutoring, and residential care.

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