A team of British scientists have found that domestic violence against a pregnant woman is associated with the deterioration of her child’s mental abilities. Children whose mothers were abused had an intelligence rate of 3 to 5 per cent below normal. At the same time, physical violence against the mother suffered more than from psychological.
Partner violence is still widespread even in developed countries. At least as far back as 2013, WHO reported that 23% of women had experienced violence in high-income countries. If a woman is pregnant, not only she suffers, but also her child. It is known, for example, that stress during pregnancy can lead to a variety of consequences for the fetus – from premature birth to neurological abnormalities. However, there is little research on how violence against a mother during pregnancy is associated with her child’s cognitive abilities.
A team of scientists led by Richard Emsley of King’s College London decided to assess how many British women are being abused and to check how this affects their children’s intelligence.
The researchers worked with data from The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). Of the 14,000 women who were pregnant between 1990 and 1992, 3,153 were selected, who gave birth to one child, provided information on domestic violence and agreed to be examined before the age of 18. The researchers rated the level of intelligence of children on the Wechsler Intelligence Scale – a multi-level test that includes checking working memory, speech perception, understanding visual information and other skills.
18.6% of the women surveyed reported having experienced violence between the beginning of pregnancy and up to six years after the birth of the child. At the same time, 17.6% reported psychological violence and 6.8% reported physical violence. As a side-effect in assessing the relationship between maternal violence and the child’s cognitive abilities, the researchers took into account demographics and the socio-economic status of parents, alcohol consumption and smoking during pregnancy and the presence of depression in the mother.
Then, the researchers calculated the number of children with an intelligence level below the average (less than 90 points) at the age of 8 years in both groups. In women who were not subjected to violence, 13% of children had below-average intelligence, 9.9% had verbal intelligence, and 20.4% had performative intelligence. Those who reported violence had 16.8, 12.1, and 25.6%, respectively. At the same time, physical violence, apparently, turned out to be more traumatic than psychological: from the first, children lost an average of 5.6 points compared to their peers, and from the second – 2.9.
So scientists have demonstrated that the problem of domestic violence is still relevant in the UK and even can affect the mental capacity of the children of affected women. However, the authors of the work note that not all cases of violence could be detected – because, for example, women were afraid to talk about it or forgot when it happened, therefore, the real numbers may be different (most likely, even more).