Because the brain undergoes the majority of its structural development in childhood, abuse experienced during this time can have a lasting effect on cognition. A child who goes through physical abuse, for example, may have an underdeveloped hippocampus and amygdala. Both regions play a key role in emotional processing and, when damaged, can increase the likelihood of behavioral problems and the ability to cope with stress.
Emotional abuse tends to affect those regions of the brain specifically responsible for awareness and control of feelings. Particularly salient areas of impact include the medial temporal lobe and prefrontal cortex, which activate when a person needs to reflect on his or her emotions. This can cause inhibited or intense emotional responsiveness, moodiness, or problems with emotional regulation.
Finally, children who experience sexual abuse tend to have deficits in the somatosensory cortex, which interprets bodily sensation. Areas of impact tend to correlate with the parts of the body involved in the abuse. Symptoms may include chronic pain, decreased sensation, or a lower pain threshold in the affected region.