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Strong association found between childhood emotional abuse and schizophrenia-like experiences in adulthood

Overview: Research reveals a strong link between emotional abuse during childhood and an increased risk of developing schizophrenia-like symptoms in adulthood.

Source: University of Hertfordshire

A new study from the University of Hertfordshire has for the first time shown a strong link between childhood emotional abuse and schizophrenia-like experiences in healthy adults, such as paranoia, hearing voices and social withdrawal.

Researchers say those who have experienced emotional abuse in early life are 3.5 times more likely to have schizophrenia-like experiences in adulthood. Researchers also say that the greater the abuse, the more severe the schizophrenia-like experiences adults have.

The research, published in PLOS ONEis the first to summarize and quantify studies (25 in total) that have examined the relationship between childhood trauma and schizophrenia-like experiences in more than 15,000 healthy people.

Researchers from the University of Hertfordshire analyzed the findings of previous research to see whether specific forms of abuse, such as emotional, sexual and physical abuse, as well as emotional and physical neglect, increased the likelihood of schizophrenia-like experiences later in life.

They found a much stronger association between childhood emotional abuse and schizophrenic-like experiences in adulthood than other forms of child abuse.

The relationship between childhood trauma and schizophrenia, a serious mental illness, is well known. However, much less research has been done on the impact of childhood trauma on the prevalence of less severe schizophrenia-like experiences in healthy adults.

Researchers believe their findings may show that schizophrenia is a disorder on a spectrum, such as autism, where healthy people can have schizophrenia-like episodes without reaching the diagnosable threshold.

Researcher Dr. Diamantis Toutountzidis of the University of Hertfordshire led this research under the supervision of Keith Laws, professor of neuropsychology at the university.

dr. Toutountzidis says that “emotional abuse is different from other forms of abuse. It is more common, often occurs over a longer period of time and is not treated by law in the same way as physical or sexual abuse.”

This shows a crying boy
They found a much stronger association between childhood emotional abuse and schizophrenic-like experiences in adulthood than other forms of child abuse. Image is in the public domain

“Our study has shown a significant association between childhood emotional abuse and schizophrenia-like experiences in healthy adults, and that emotional abuse is a stronger predictor of schizophrenia-like experiences than other forms of abuse.

“This is something mental health professionals need to consider when addressing the root causes of schizophrenia-like experiences in people who suffer from it.”

Professor Laws added that their “research has opened the door for future studies that help better understand how specific forms of child abuse are related to specific schizophrenia-like experiences much later in life. It will also help us understand why a such trauma in some is linked to disorders such as schizophrenia, while others experience milder manageable experiences.”

About this news about abuse and psychology research

Author: press office
Source: University of Hertfordshire
Contact: Press Office – University of Hertfordshire
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original research: Open access.
Childhood trauma and schizotypy in non-clinical samples: a systematic review and meta-analysisby Diamantis Toutountzidis et al. PLOS ONE

Also see

This shows a diagram from the study:

Abstract

Childhood trauma and schizotypy in non-clinical samples: a systematic review and meta-analysis

The association of early life adversity and psychosis symptoms is well documented in clinical populations; however, whether this relationship extends to subclinical psychosis also remains unclear. In particular, are early life adversities associated with elevated levels of schizotypal personality traits in non-clinical samples?

We performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of associations between early life adversity and psychometrically defined schizotypal traits in non-clinical samples. The assessment followed PRISMA guidelines.

The search using PubMed, Web of Science and EBSCO databases identified a total of 1,609 articles. Twenty-five studies (N = 15,253 participants) met the eligibility criteria for the assessment. A review of study quality showed that less than half of all studies were rated as methodologically robust.

Meta-analyses showed that all forms of child abuse (emotional, physical and sexual) and neglect (emotional and physical) were significantly associated with psychometric schizotypy. The association of schizotypal features with childhood emotional abuse (r = .33: 95% CI .30 to .37) was significantly greater than for all other forms of abuse or neglect. Meta-regression analyzes showed that the relationship between physical abuse and schizotypy was stronger in samples with more female participants; and the relationship between sexual abuse and schizotypy was stronger in younger samples.

The current review identifies a dose-response relationship between all forms of abuse/neglect and schizotypy scores in non-clinical samples; however, a stronger association for emotional abuse emerged. More research is needed to address the relationship between trauma types and specific symptom types.

Future research should also address the under-representation of men.

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