J Epidemiol Community Health doi:10.1136/jech-2011-200727
  • Research report

Interpersonal trauma exposure and cognitive development in children to age 8 years: a longitudinal study

Press Release
  1. Rosalind J Wright2,6,7
  1. 1Department of Psychiatry, Children's Hospital Boston, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  2. 2Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  3. 3Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
  4. 4Clinical Research Center, Children's Hospital Boston, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  5. 5Department of Medicine, Children's Hospital Boston, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  6. 6Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  7. 7Channing Laboratory, Department of Medicine, Brigham & Women's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Michelle Bosquet Enlow, Department of Psychiatry, Children's Hospital Boston, 21 Autumn Street, 1st Floor, Boston, MA 02115, USA; michelle.bosquet{at}
  1. Contributors MBE designed the study, with collaboration of the coauthors as described below, and was largely responsible for the writing of the manuscript. BE designed the parent study, directed data collection and contributed to the study design and editing of the manuscript. EAB helped to design the study's analytic strategy, ran the statistical analyses and contributed to the interpretation of the data and the writing of the Methods and Results sections. ROW and RJW contributed to the study design and writing of the Introduction and Discussion sections. Each of the authors has reviewed the manuscript and made edits as appropriate. MBE, BE and EAB had access to the data presented in the manuscript and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and accuracy of the data analyses. There are no other individuals who fulfil the criteria for authorship.

  • Accepted 31 January 2012
  • Published Online First 4 April 2012


Background Childhood trauma exposure has been associated with deficits in cognitive functioning. The influence of timing of exposure on the magnitude and persistence of deficits is not well understood. The impact of exposure in early development has been especially under-investigated. This study examined the impact of interpersonal trauma exposure (IPT) in the first years of life on childhood cognitive functioning.

Methods Children (N=206) participating in a longitudinal birth cohort study were assessed prospectively for exposure to IPT (physical or emotional abuse or neglect, sexual abuse, witnessing maternal partner violence) between birth and 64 months. Child intelligent quotient (IQ) scores were assessed at 24, 64 and 96 months of age. Race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, maternal IQ, birth complications, birth weight and cognitive stimulation in the home were also assessed.

Results IPT was significantly associated with decreased cognitive scores at all time points, even after controlling for socio-demographic factors, maternal IQ, birth complications, birth weight and cognitive stimulation in the home. IPT in the first 2 years appeared to be especially detrimental. On average, compared with children not exposed to IPT in the first 2 years, exposed children scored one-half SD lower across cognitive assessments.

Conclusion IPT in early life may have adverse effects on cognitive development. IPT during the first 2 years may have particular impact, with effects persisting at least into later childhood.


  • Funding The research was supported by grants to BE from the Maternal and Child Health Service (MCR-270416), the William T Grant Foundation, New York, and the National Institute of Mental Health (MH-40864). During preparation of this manuscript, the authors were supported by K08MH074588 (MBE), R01HD054850 (BE), R01ES013744 (ROW) and R01 MD006086 (RJW). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval University of Minnesota.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.