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BACKGROUND: Adversity experiences (AEs) are major risk factors for psychiatric illness, and ample evidence suggests that adversity-related changes in brain structure enhance this vulnerability. To achieve greater understanding of the underlying biological pathways, increased convergence among findings is needed. Suggested future directions may benefit from the use of large population samples which may contribute to achieving this goal. We addressed mechanistic pathways by investigating the associations between multiple brain phenotypes and retrospectively reported AEs in early life (child adversity) and adulthood (partner abuse) in a large population sample, using a cross-sectional approach. METHODS: The UK Biobank resource was used to access imaging-derived phenotypes (IDPs) from 6,751 participants (aged: M = 62.1, SD = 7.2, range = 45-80), together with selected reports of childhood AEs and adult partner abuse. Principal component analysis was used to reduce the dimensionality of the data prior to multivariate tests. RESULTS: The data showed that participants who reported experiences of childhood emotional abuse ('felt hated by family member as a child') had smaller cerebellar and ventral striatum volumes. This result was also depicted in a random subset of participants; however, we note small effect sizes ( η p 2   < .01), suggestive of modest biological changes. CONCLUSIONS: Using a large population cohort, this study demonstrates the value of big datasets in the study of adversity and using automatically preprocessed neuroimaging phenotypes. While retrospective and cross-sectional characteristics limit interpretation, this study demonstrates that self-perceived adversity reports, however nonspecific, may still expose neural consequences, identifiable with increased statistical power.

Original publication




Journal article


J Child Psychol Psychiatry

Publication Date



Brain imaging, adversity, early life experience, large data