Panel Discussion: Adverse Childhood Events and Health

  • Topic A - The Impact of Chronic Stress and Trauma on the Psychological and Neuropsychological Functioning of College Students

    Leslie Varner Smith, MA

    Neuropsychological impairments in terms of response inhibition, cognitive flexibility, and attention have been established within the literature as a consequence of exposure to chronic stress or trauma. The current study evaluated the effects of both potentially traumatic and stressful life events upon neuropsychological and psychological functioning using a sample of 129 undergraduate college students. Results indicate that, consistent with past literature, college students who had experience increase traumatic and life stressors had increased symptoms of depression, perceived stress, trait anxiety, and post-traumatic stress, interpersonal types of trauma were associated with increased psychological difficulties compared to no trauma controls but non-interpersonal types of trauma were not different from controls.  Neuropsychological functioning, however, did not differ according to the number of traumatic or stressful experiences reported, type of trauma, level of distress, or frequency and duration of trauma. These results may suggest that neurocognitive functioning of college students may be resilient to the damaging effects of stress and trauma.

    Topic B - The Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences on Physical Health in College Students: A Replication and Extension of the ACEs Study

    Irina Khrapatina, MA


    While the link between adverse experiences in childhood and physical health in adulthood is well established, there is a dearth of research addressing this relationship in college students. College students are younger, with college entry creating a window of time for health behaviors to solidify or change. Age also relates to the emergence of physical health problems. The consequences of health-risk behaviors initiated in early adulthood are likely to manifest later in life as mid and late ago-of-onset diseases such as cardiovascular disease. Emerging adulthood offers an opportunity to identify and address maladaptive behaviors and the early experiences that shape behavioral patterns. Individuation from ones’ family of origin, along with the formation of self-identity and behavioral pattern, offers a unique opportunity for intervention and change in a college student population. This research project examines the prevalence of ACEs in college students, as well as the relationship between exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), health-risk behaviors, and physical health in college students. Implications for working with students who have a maltreatment history in academic, therapeutic and administrative capacities are discussed.