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Essex University’s AI Brain Study Brings Hope to Trauma Survivors

  • Groundbreaking global study, led by University of Essex, reveals AI’s role in understanding childhood trauma’s impact on brain development.
  • Findings offer hope for novel treatment solutions and shed light on overlooked aspects of trauma’s effects, bringing validation and understanding to survivors like Valerie and Kari.

A groundbreaking global study exploring how childhood trauma impacts on brain development has given survivors of trauma new hope for healing.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) was used to analyze hundreds of brain scans from people who experienced abuse or profound emotional pain as children.

This research led by University of Essex has discovered how childhood trauma alters brain development, with detrimental impacts such as issues in problem solving and empathy development.

Dr Megan Klabunde of UCLA believes her study could lead to novel treatment solutions designed to reverse any potential negative side-effects of medication used.

According to the UK Trauma Council, one out of every three children and young people will encounter at least one potentially traumatic event prior to turning 18, such as something dangerous or life-threatening which causes extreme fear.

Smaller studies have already highlighted how trauma alters children’s brain structures; however, this latest research used AI to uncover new patterns within data and increase comprehension of its implications.

Dr Klabunde, an internationally-recognized child clinical and health psychologist and psychology lecturer from University of Essex, led this investigation.

She noted: “Our research shows there are significant alterations to two major brain clusters and know this affects problem-solving and self-focus skills, potentially impacting emotional processing, relationships formation and understanding oneself as a body.”

Memory and decision-making were also greatly affected, she pointed out.

Valerie was 16 when she experienced female genital mutilation (FGM). This happened in Nigeria.

She related: “Within seconds I found myself on the ground with someone sitting on my chest while my throat and body were cut open by someone unknown to me. In that instantaneous instant I knew something had gone drastically wrong with me and my throat and chest became disfigured from being cut open so violently by somebody unknown to me.

“That day was the start of an irreparable trauma for me – years of physical and emotional agony as well as humiliation.” Valerie had long wondered why her reactions differed from those of others and found this research “like winning the jackpot; it makes so much sense”.

Kari, who experienced sexual abuse as a child, shared that “there are no words to adequately express how important [this research] is to me”.

“For years I’ve struggled with relationships and often wondered, ‘why me?’.

“Now I understand it wasn’t my fault.” Kari and Valerie are members of Essex Trauma Ambassadors, an organization providing survivors support while shaping healthcare services in Essex County.

Trauma therapies often focus on helping individuals identify triggers and address fearful thoughts, but Dr. Klabunde discovered that survivors who experienced trauma were still affected by it even without manifesting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“Current treatments appear to overlook an integral component of this complex issue,” noted Dr Klabunde.

“Psychologists must also explore how trauma impacts one’s physical, psychological and interpersonal wellbeing.”

“This provides hope as appropriate therapies may be able to reverse any brain rewiring effects.”

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