Negative Effects of Childhood Trauma on Cognitive Functioning in Adults

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The individuality of each person is shaped during childhood, and all major events people face when they are young ultimately have an effect on their future life. Freud believed that human behavior is governed by unconscious instincts and that childhood experiences constitute the primary factor in explaining adult personalities (Pandit, 2020). Today, science has made considerable progress in the field of studying the impact of early life on adults’ behavior and has proven that Freud was correct in his assumption.

Childhood traumas are an important province of research for modern psychiatrists, and the topic of their influence on the adults’ ability to reason, think, remember, solve problems, and maintain attention remains a controversial one. Thus, in this paper, I will explore the existing studies in the sphere of psychiatry and psychology to determine whether a childhood trauma can have adverse effects on cognitive functioning in adults.


The critical importance of childhood in the life of every person cannot be denied. All researchers agree in the opinion that the appropriate development during this period is fundamental for the proper physiological and psychological states of an individual (Dauvermann & Donohoe, 2018). A child acquires most coping and behavior models that would be used in the future to deal with stressful situations or challenges (Dauvermann & Donohoe, 2018).

Moreover, adolescents have stronger responses to all stressors, meaning that their effects can be more powerful and precondition the emergence of undesired or irreversible changes in their psyche (Petkus et al., 2018). Under these conditions, because of the importance of this period, childhood traumas should be given specific attention as they can affect the cognitive functioning of adults in the future.

Parental Understanding

There is another aspect of the issue, making it more complex. In most cases, parents possess little understanding of the importance of traumatic events, why they occur, and their consequences (Bi et al., 2018). Moreover, adults can fail to recognize a stressful situation that would have a significant influence on the psyche of a child in the future. For instance, Dauvermann and Donohoe (2018) state that unnoticed episodes from childhood can have a critical influence on a personality of a child, his/her traits, behaviors, and cognitive abilities. That is why the question of traumas becomes more complex, and parents can remain unaware or give little attention to this problem.

Unconscious Mind

Another idea proving the influence of childhood experiences on adult behaviors is the way the unconscious mind works. The research shows that strong, frequent, prolonged, or severe stress alters specific parts of the brain and its responses (Fletcher & Schurer, 2017). It means that at the unconscious level, a person acquires reactions inappropriate for his/her peers and evolving in serious deviations or problematic patterns (Fletcher & Schurer, 2017).

The life of a child is critically linked to the unconscious level as he/she accepts behaviors and models not clearly understanding them (Fletcher & Schurer, 2017). It means that the trauma acquired in childhood can be linked to this level of thinking and affect the cognitive abilities of a person remaining unnoticed and untreated (Pérez-Álvarez, 2017). It outlines the necessity of working with such problematic issues to mitigate their adverse effects.

Impaired Cognitive Abilities

The worse states of the brain in old age can also be linked to childhood trauma. For instance, the research shows that self-reported traumatic events that occurred at a young age are related to inadequate cognitive abilities, performance, increased levels of anxiety, and depression (Petkus et al., 2018). Moreover, worse attention and insufficient executive functioning are also linked to the given problem (Petkus et al., 2018). It means that children who experience various types of traumatic events acquire a high risk of developing cognitive issues in adulthood and damaged brain functioning at old age (Petkus et al., 2018). These findings prove the correlation between childhood trauma and cognitive functioning.

Freudian View

As stated previously, the problem can also be analyzed by applying Freud’s perspective and ideas. He assumes that human behavior is subject to the unconscious mind and that interpersonal behavior and childhood experiences are essential factors in explaining adult personalities (Pandit 13). In other words, the most important reactions and responses people acquire during their first developmental stages, while adulthood is critically affected by them (Pérez-Álvarez, 2017).

This assumption is evidenced by the existing research, showing that people who had better childhood experiences show improved results in the cognitive sphere (Fletcher & Schurer, 2017). Otherwise, severe or traumatic events in childhood cultivated the emergence of serious issues with attention, the ability to focus, concentrate, and resolve complex dilemmas (Petkus et al., 2018). It shows the applicability of Freud’s theories to the idea of a direct correlation between traumas and cognitive functioning.


In such a way, the growing mental conditions of adults and their problems can be linked to some of their stressful childhood experiences. This idea becomes critical for treating such problems and helping a person to alter his/her behaviors. In numerous cases, a client might fail to recognize the existence of childhood trauma, meaning that psychotherapy can become a potent way to mediate behaviors and attain the desired outcome (Gilligan, 2017).

For instance, people can experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because of their past experiences, while the application of cognitive-behavior, art, or cognitive processing therapy can help to acknowledge such events, accept their importance, and create the basis for the improvement (Dauvermann & Donohoe, 2018). At the same time, neglect of childhood traumas can precondition the further deterioration of the situation and its becoming worse, with the development of additional symptoms and severe states such as depression.


Altogether, childhood trauma is a serious issue that might play a critical role in the life of individuals. Following Freud’s ideas, people’s individualities are formed in childhood under the impact of multiple factors. Their behaviors are also cultivated by unconscious triggers, and traumas might be among them. Research shows that self-reported child traumas create numerous adverse effects, including higher anxiety levels, inadequate cognitive abilities compared to peers, and the basis for the emergence of more complex systems and conditions. Moreover, parents might have an inappropriate understanding of this issue’s importance and devote little attention to children with such problems.

For this reason, it is vital to address the problem of childhood traumas and the cognitive development of a child to avoid future issues and undesired states. The correct realization of the given question’s importance can increase the effectiveness of therapeutic sessions and help clients with multiple problems caused by negative experiences in the past.


Bi, X., Yang, Y., Li, H., Wang, M., Zhang, W., & Deater-Deckard, K. (2018). Parenting styles and parent-adolescent relationships: The mediating roles of behavioral autonomy and parental authority. Frontiers in Psychology, 9(1), 15-27. Web.

Dauvermann, M. R., & Donohoe, G. (2018). The role of childhood trauma in cognitive performance in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – A systematic review. Schizophrenia research. Cognition, 16, 1–11. Web.

Fletcher, J., & Schurer, S. (2017). Origins of adulthood personality: The role of adverse childhood experiences. The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, 17(2), 101-110. Web.

Gilligan, C. (2017). In a different voice: Psychological theory and women’s development. Harvard University Press.

Pandit, G. (2020). Freudian frontiers of Psychoanalytic theory and therapy: A case of improvement of scientific knowledge? Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 10(3), 1-27. Web.

Pérez-Álvarez, M. (2017). Psychology as a science of subject and comportment, beyond the mind and behavior. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 52(1), 25-51. Web.

Petkus, A. J., Lenze, E. J., Butters, M. A., Twamley, E. W., & Wetherell, J. L. (2018). Childhood trauma is associated with poorer cognitive performance in older adults. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 79(1), 16m11021. Web.

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PsychologyWriting. (2023) 'Negative Effects of Childhood Trauma on Cognitive Functioning in Adults'. 4 January.


PsychologyWriting. 2023. "Negative Effects of Childhood Trauma on Cognitive Functioning in Adults." January 4, 2023.

1. PsychologyWriting. "Negative Effects of Childhood Trauma on Cognitive Functioning in Adults." January 4, 2023.


PsychologyWriting. "Negative Effects of Childhood Trauma on Cognitive Functioning in Adults." January 4, 2023.