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Beating the brain about abuse: Empirical and meta-analytic studies of the association between maltreatment and hippocampal volume across childhood and adolescence

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 May 2015

Madelon M. E. Riem
Leiden University
Lenneke R. A. Alink
Leiden University
Dorothée Out
Leiden University
Marinus H. Van Ijzendoorn*
Leiden University
Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg*
Leiden University
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg or Marinus van IJzendoorn, Centre for Child and Family Studies, Leiden University, PO Box 9555, 2300 RB Leiden, the Netherlands; E-mail: or
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg or Marinus van IJzendoorn, Centre for Child and Family Studies, Leiden University, PO Box 9555, 2300 RB Leiden, the Netherlands; E-mail: or


We present new empirical data and meta-analytic evidence for the association of childhood maltreatment with reduced hippocampal volume. In Study 1, we examined the effects of maltreatment experiences reported during the Adult Attachment Interview on hippocampal volume in female twin pairs. We found that reduced hippocampal volume was related to childhood maltreatment. In addition, individuals who reported having experienced maltreatment at older ages had larger reductions in hippocampal volume compared to individuals who reported maltreatment in early childhood. In Study 2, we present the results of a meta-analysis of 49 studies (including 2,720 participants) examining hippocampal volume in relation to experiences of child maltreatment, and test the moderating role of the timing of the maltreatment, the severity of maltreatment, and the time after exposure to maltreatment. The results of the meta-analysis confirmed that experiences of childhood maltreatment are associated with a reduction in hippocampal volume and that the effects of maltreatment are more pronounced when the maltreatment occurs in middle childhood compared to early childhood or adolescence.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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