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Childhood exposure to violence and lifelong health: Clinical intervention science and stress-biology research join forces

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 December 2013

Terrie E. Moffitt*
Duke University King's College London
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Terrie Moffitt, Department of Psychology, Duke University, Box 104410, 2020 West Main Street, Suite 201, Durham, NC 27708; E-mail:


Many young people who are mistreated by an adult, victimized by bullies, criminally assaulted, or who witness domestic violence react to this violence exposure by developing behavioral, emotional, or learning problems. What is less well known is that adverse experiences like violence exposure can lead to hidden physical alterations inside a child's body, alterations that may have adverse effects on life-long health. We discuss why this is important for the field of developmental psychopathology and for society, and we recommend that stress-biology research and intervention science join forces to tackle the problem. We examine the evidence base in relation to stress-sensitive measures for the body (inflammatory reactions, telomere erosion, epigenetic methylation, and gene expression) and brain (mental disorders, neuroimaging, and neuropsychological testing). We also review promising interventions for families, couples, and children that have been designed to reduce the effects of childhood violence exposure. We invite intervention scientists and stress-biology researchers to collaborate in adding stress-biology measures to randomized clinical trials of interventions intended to reduce effects of violence exposure and other traumas on young people.

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