In the Spring of 2010, Jack Shonkoff (et al) wrote an article with the Center on the Developing Child, explaining how early childhood trauma can alter the structural genome (the approximately 23 thousand genes children inherit from their parents). A negative life event, such as abuse and neglect, can leave a chemical “signature” on the genes and this can turn them on or off. A child’s brain developing with altered epigenomes will result in changed behavior. If the wrong genes are turned on or off, this can also lead to the individual being much more susceptible to disease later in life as the altered genes may result in underdeveloped organs (such as the kidneys, brain, heart etc.)
The paper goes on to state: “Moreover, research in both animals and humans shows that some epigenetic changes that occur in the fetus during pregnancy can be passed on to later generations, affecting the health and welfare of children, grandchildren, and their descendants.”
The idea that trauma is hereditary, that we have scientific evidence to support this, should be a powerful argument for policymakers to turn their attention to funding more intervention programs.
I’d love to learn more about the social and cultural consequences of hereditary trauma, so if anyone is studying it or knows of studies please let me know.