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Higher IQs Protect Kids From Traumatic Events

Smarter children are less vulnerable to trauma and its aftermath, study suggests

FRIDAY, Nov. 10, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Intelligence could help shield children from traumatic events, U.S. researchers report.

A new study found that children who are more intelligent than their peers at age 6 were less likely to experience traumatic events by age 17 and, if they did, were less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Michigan State University researchers studied 336 boys and 377 girls born between 1983 and 1985 at two Michigan hospitals. One hospital was located in a middle-class suburban community, while the other was in a disadvantaged urban community.

The children were given intelligence tests when they were 6 years old. Their parents and teachers provided information about the children's behavior at school and about any symptoms of anxiety disorders, such as phobias, separation anxiety and generalized anxiety disorder.

At age 17, the youngsters were interviewed again as to the number and type of traumatic events they'd experienced in their lives. They were also asked how seriously those events affected them, including whether they'd ever suffered symptoms of PTSD.

The researchers found that 541 (75.9 percent) of the youngsters had experienced a traumatic event and 45 (6.3 percent overall and 8.3 percent of those who experienced trauma) met criteria for PTSD.

Youngsters who had an IQ greater than 115 at age 6 were less likely to have experienced any kind of trauma (especially violent assaults) and, if they did, were less likely to develop PTSD by age 17.

Participants who had more conduct problems at school at age 6 were more likely to have been exposed to violent crime, such as mugging, beating or rape, by age 17, the study found.

These children, and those who had anxiety disorders at age 6, were about twice as likely to develop PTSD by age 17 if they were exposed to trauma, compared to children who had no anxiety disorders or conduct problems at age 6.

The researchers also found that boys were more likely to be exposed to trauma, while girls were more likely to develop PTSD after exposure to trauma.

"The ways in which high IQ might protect from the PTSD effects of traumatic exposure are unclear," the study authors wrote. "The findings underscore the importance of investigating cognitive processes in a person's responses to challenging and potentially traumatic experiences and the involvement of general intelligence in shaping them."

The study was published in the November issue of the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health offers advice on how to help children cope with violence and disasters.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, Nov. 6, 2006
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