Cambridge University Press, Development and Psychopathology, 02(15)
Research suggests that exposure to extreme stress in childhood, such as domestic violence, affects children's neurocognitive development, leading to lower intelligence. But studies have been unable to account for genetic influences that might confound the association between domestic violence and lower intelligence. This twin study tested whether domestic violence had environmentally mediated effects on young children's intelligence. Children's IQs were assessed for a population sample of 1116 monozygotic and dizygotic 5-year-old twin pairs in England. Mothers reported their experience of domestic violence in the previous 5 years. Ordinary least squares regression showed that domestic violence was uniquely associated with IQ suppression in a dose–response relationship. Children exposed to high levels of domestic violence had IQs that were, on average, 8 points lower than unexposed children. Structural equation models showed that adult domestic violence accounted for 4% of the variation, on average, in child IQ, independent of latent genetic influences. The findings are consistent with animal experiments and human correlational studies documenting the harmful effects of extreme stress on brain development. Programs that successfully reduce domestic violence should also have beneficial effects on children's cognitive development.