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The neurophysiological embedding of child maltreatment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 July 2020

Steven J. Holochwost*
Palmer Wolf Corporation, 8A Francis Avenue, Cambridge, MA02138, USA Andrus, 1156 North Broadway, Yonkers, NY 10701, USA
Guan Wang
School of Education, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, 301K Peabody Hall, CB 3500, Chapel Hill, NC27599-3500, USA
Jacek Kolacz
Kinsey Institute, Indiana University, Lindley Hall, 150 South Woodlawn Avenue, Bloomington, IL47405, USA
W. Roger Mills-Koonce
School of Education, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, 301K Peabody Hall, CB 3500, Chapel Hill, NC27599-3500, USA
J. Bart Klika
Prevent Child Abuse America, 228 South Wabash Avenue, 10th Floor, Chicago, IL60604, USA
Sara R. Jaffee
Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, 425 S. University Avenue, Philadelphia, PA19104, USA
Author for correspondence: Palmer Wolf Corporation, 8A Francis Avenue, Cambridge, MA02138, USA; E-mail:


Maltreatment adversely impacts the development of children across a host of domains. One way in which maltreatment may exert its deleterious effects is by becoming embedded in the activity of neurophysiological systems that regulate metabolic function. This paper reviews the literature regarding the association between childhood maltreatment and the activity of three systems: the parasympathetic nervous system, the sympathetic nervous system, and the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis. A particular emphasis is placed on the extent to which the literature supports a common account of activity across these systems under conditions of homeostasis and stress. The paper concludes with an outline of directions for future research and the implications of the literature for policy and practice.

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