n Child Abuse Research in South Africa - The impact of child abuse as traumatic environmental stressor on the plasticity of intelligence

Volume 4, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1562-1383



This article explored neurobehavioural deficits and strengths in a sample of abused children in an attempt to develop an understanding of the impact of child abuse on the plasticity of intelligence. The was administered to a sample of 75 male and female subjects between the ages of 8 years 0 months and 16 years 11 months who had been exposed to child abuse to levels that warranted admission to a Place of Safety. A one-way analysis of variance technique was implemented and p-values calculated to allow inter- and intra- group comparisons with regards to levels of intellectual functioning. The results indicate deficits in intellectual functioning among all subjects ( = 0.0001), with such deficits being particularly marked for memory and verbal processing abilities ( = 0.0001). Subtle neurobehavioural deficits and strengths were present. Intact visual non-verbal functioning was demonstrated by a substantially elevated performance IQ among all subjects ( = 0.0072), in keeping with the concept of 'frozen watchfulness' associated with abuse. All subjects revealed advanced levels of social knowledge, suggesting activated amygdala functioning. Despite elevated episodic memory, all subjects revealed impaired error detection and restoration, suggesting depressed anterior cingulate gyrus and orbitofrontal cortex functioning. Findings suggest differential intellectual impairment associated with child abuse, with a sparing of visual non-verbal functions. The depressed verbal and elevated non-verbal IQ provides support for the plasticity of intelligence, with the interpretation being that brain functions are reorganised with stress and that various memory functions are selectively either depressed or activated.

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