A long period of chronic stress can harm a human brain

From 7½ Lessons
Jump to navigation Jump to search

A note for Lesson no. 5, "Your Brain Secretly Works With Other Brains," in Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context from page 91‌ is:

Simply put, a long period of chronic stress can harm a human brain. Scientific studies are absolutely clear on this point.

The appendix adds:

Studies show that chronic stress eats away at the brain and the body over the long term regardless of whether the stress stems from ongoing physical abuse, sexual abuse, or verbal aggression. Scientific results like these are surprising and unwelcome, so it’s helpful to consider the evidence in a bit of detail.

Here are references for the various points about chronic stress in this lesson:

  • Chronic stress causes brain atrophy.[1][2]
  • The impact of stress on non-human animals.[3]
  • Exposure to verbal abuse was associated with moderate to large impacts on anxiety, depression, and anger during young adulthood.[4]
  • Biological impact of growing up in a harsh or chaotic family with a lot of verbal criticism and conflict.[5]
  • Swimming in a sea of sustained aggression also places adolescents on a developmental trajectory toward physical and mental illness.[6]
  • Link between sustained social stress, usually involving verbal aggression, and an increased incidence of psychiatric and physical disease.[7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14]


  1. Ansell, Emily B., Kenneth Rando, Keri Tuit, Joseph Guarnaccia, and Rajita Sinha. 2012. “Cumulative Adversity and Smaller Gray Matter Volume in Medial Prefrontal, Anterior Cingulate, and Insula Regions.” Biological Psychiatry 72: 57–64.
  2. Monninger, Maximilian, Eline J. Kraaijenvanger, Tania M. Pollok, Regina Boecker-Schlier, Christine Jennen-Steinmetz, Sarah Baumeister, Günter Esser, et al. 2020. "The Long-Term Impact of Early Life Stress on Orbitofrontal Cortical Thickness." Cerebral Cortex 30 (3): 1307–1317.
  3. McEwen, Bruce S., Nicole P. Bowles, Jason D. Gray, Matthew H. Hill, Richard G. Hunter, Ilia N. Karatsoreos and Carla Nasca. 2015. “Mechanisms of Stress in the Brain.” Nature Neuroscience 18 (10): 1353–1363.
  4. Teicher, Martin H., Jacqueline A. Samson, Ann Polcari, and Cynthia E. McGreenery. 2006. “Sticks, Stones, and Hurtful Words: Relative Effects of Various Forms of Childhood Maltreatment.” American Journal of Psychiatry 163 (6): 993–1000.
  5. Miller, Gregory E., and Edith Chen. 2010. “Harsh Family Climate in Early Life Presages the Emergence of a Proinflammatory Phenotype in Adolescence.” Psychological Science 21 (6): 848–856.
  6. Ross, Kharah, Tara Martin, Edith Chen, and Gregory E. Miller. 2011. “Social Encounters in Daily Life and 2-Year Changes in Metabolic Risk Factors in Young Women.” Development and Psychopathology 23 (3): 897–906.
  7. Arnsten, Amy F. T. 2009. “Stress Signalling Pathways that Impair Prefrontal Cortex Structure and Function.” Nature Reviews Neuroscience 10 (6): 410.
  8. Copeland, William E., Dieter Wolke, Suzet Tanya Lereya, Lilly Shanahan, Carol Worthman, and E. Jane Costello. 2014. “Childhood Bullying Involvement Predicts Low-Grade Systemic Inflammation into Adulthood.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111 (21): 7570–7575.
  9. Epel, Elissa S., Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Jue Lin, Firdaus S. Dhabhar, Nancy E. Adler, Jason D. Morrow, and Richard M. Cawthon. 2004. “Accelerated Telomere Shortening in Response to Life Stress.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 101 (49): 17312–17315.
  10. Knack, Jennifer M., Lauri A. Jensen-Campbell, and Andrew Baum. 2011. “Worse Than Sticks and Stones? Bullying is Associated with Altered HPA Axis Functioning and Poorer Health.” Brain and Cognition 77 (2): 183–190.
  11. Polcari, Ann, Keren Rabi, Elizabeth Bolger, and Martin H. Teicher. 2014 . “Parental Verbal Affection and Verbal Aggression in Childhood Differentially Influence Psychiatric Symptoms and Wellbeing in Young Adulthood.” Child Abuse & Neglect 38 (1): 91–102.
  12. Quinlan, Erin Burke, Edward D. Barker, Qiang Luo, Tobias Banaschewski, Arun L. W. Bokde, Uli Bromberg, Christian Büchel, Sylvane Desrivières, Herta Flor, Vincent Frouin, et al. 2018. “Peer Victimization and its Impact on Adolescent Brain Development and Psychopathology.” Molecular Psychiatry. doi:10.1038/s41380–018–0297-9.
  13. Teicher, Martin H., Jacqueline A. Samson, Yi-Shin Sheu, Ann Polcari, and Cynthia E. McGreenery. 2010. “Hurtful Words: Association of Exposure to Peer Verbal Abuse with Elevated Psychiatric Symptom Scores and Corpus Callosum Abnormalities.” American Journal of Psychiatry 167 (12): 1464–1471.
  14. Wolke, Dieter, William E. Copeland, Adrian Angold, and E. Jane Costello. 2013. “Impact of bullying in childhood on adult health, wealth, crime, and social outcomes.” Psychological Science 24 (10): 1958–1970.