Ohio State University Study Finds Differences in Brains of Girls Who Engage in Self-Harm

A study led by Theodore Beauchaine, a professor of psychology at Ohio state University, shows that the brains of teenage girls who engage in serious forms of self-harm, including cutting, show features similar to those seen in adults with borderline personality disorder, a severe and hard-to-treat mental illness. The study found that reduced brain volumes seen in these girls confirms biological – and not just behavioral – changes in girls that engage in self-harm activities.

Using magnetic resonance imaging the research team found clear decreases in volume in parts of the brain called the insular cortex and inferior frontal gyrus in girls who engaged in self-harm. These areas of the brain regulate human emotions.

Cutting and other forms of self-harm often precede suicide, which increased among 10- to 14-year-old girls by 300 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During that same time, there was a 53 percent increase in suicide in older teen girls and young women. Studies have shown that self-harming activities may occur in 20 percent of all adolescents.

“Self-injury is a phenomenon that’s increasing, and that’s less common outside of the United States. It’s saying something about our culture that this is happening, and we should do whatever we can to look for ways to prevent it,” Professor Beauchaine said.

The full study, “Self-Injuring Adolescent Girls Exhibit Insular Cortex Volumetric Abnormalities That Are Similar to Those Seen in Adults With Borderline Personality Disorder” was published on the website of the journal Development and Psychopathology. It may be accessed here.

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