News Release

How does early-life adversity affect childhood mental health and cognitive function?

Peer-Reviewed Publication


New research published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry indicates that early-life adversity—such as homelessness, parental violence, or longstanding illness in the family—may lead to mental health challenges, which in turn have adverse consequences for the development of cognitive abilities during childhood. 

In the study of 13,287 children in the UK, adversity at age 3 years was strongly associated with poorer mental health across all ages from 3 to 14 years. Also, adversity predicted poorer working memory at age 11 and vocabulary at age 14. The impact of adversity on cognition was partially due to its negative effects on mental health during development. 

“Our findings not only highlight the deleterious effects of adversity on mental health and cognitive abilities but also reveal one of the mechanisms through which these effects manifest and persist over a long period of time. Prolonged periods of poor mental health as a result of early-life adversity, may have lasting or partially cumulative effects on cognitive abilities of working memory and vocabulary,” said the lead author of the paper, Tochukwu Nweze, PhD, a recent graduate of University of Cambridge. “At a time of rising mental health challenges among teenagers and young people, exacerbated by contemporary environmental risk factors, we suggest that educators in collaboration with clinicians could foster greater resilience by attempting to break this vicious cycle of persistent and self-sustaining mental health difficulties faced by individuals who experienced early adversity through some sort of deliberate and targeted clinical intervention.”

URL upon publication:


Additional Information
The information contained in this release is protected by copyright. Please include journal attribution in all coverage. For more information or to obtain a PDF of any study, please contact: Sara Henning-Stout,

About the Journal
The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (JCPP) is widely recognised to be the leading international journal covering both child and adolescent psychology and psychiatry. JCPP publishes the highest quality clinically relevant research in psychology, psychiatry and related disciplines.

About Wiley
Wiley is one of the world’s largest publishers and a global leader in scientific research and career-connected education. Founded in 1807, Wiley enables discovery, powers education, and shapes workforces. Through its industry-leading content, digital platforms, and knowledge networks, the company delivers on its timeless mission to unlock human potential. Visit us at Follow us on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn and Instagram.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.