Sample options essay

The following essay is a sample response for the question: Discuss potential effects of deprivation and/or trauma on later development.

Please read through the essay below and assess it using the rubric for the new curriculum.  When you have done so, you will find my own comments on the bottom of the page. 

You will also find a file attached with comments about specific information in the essay.

Sample essay: Deprivation and trauma

There are many factors that may affect a child’s development.  Aversive Childhood Experiences, known as ACEs, can play a key role in both a child’s cognitive and social development.  Case studies have shown that abuse and deprivation of a parent’s care have long-term effects.  However, the effects are not easily predictable because it appears that many people are resilient.

An early case study was carried out in communist Czechoslovakia by Koluchova.  She studied a set of twins who had been seriously abused by their father and step-mother. They had been physically beaten and malnourished for seven years before they were found.  They were adopted shortly after being found. The boys very quickly gained strength and began to walk as well as grow.

The boys’s IQ scores were very low when they were found.  However, over time their IQs slowly improved until they were at the level of other students.  The stress of abuse can cause damage to the hippocampus which is responsible for transferring information from short-term to long-term memory.  Stress releases glucocorticoids into the bloodstream and these stimulate the sympathetic nervous system.  Long-term exposure to stress hormones can affect one’s health – leading to heart disease, memory loss and type II diabetes. Carion found that children who had suffered abuse had smaller hippocampuses.  The Koluchova study did not use an MRI so we do not know if that was the case for the twins.  Carion also only measured the brains of the children once – the study was not longitudinal.  So, we don’t know if they would grow as was seen in the twins.

The low IQ could also be due to malnourishment.  Researchers in Guatemala found that when children received a high protein supplement, they began to catch up with children who did not live in poverty. 

It seems that when recovering from abuse, the first thing that happens is that the physical changes happen.  Then there the child’s cognitive abilities improve.  Finally, the child develops social skills.

The twin study is a case study.  This gives us a lot of in depth information about the twins and it is done over a long period of time.  In addition, several tests were done on the twins, showing triangulation of data.  This means that the data is more reliable.  The study is also holistic – it did not focus only on one aspect of the children, but looked at the physical, cognitive and social development of the children.

However, case studies also have limitations.  With such a small sample size, it is not possible to generalize the findings to all children who have suffered abuse.  In this case specifically, there is the variable that the twins were together the whole time.  The fact that they formed an attachment to each other may be a reason that they were found to be so resilient.  Although we cannot generalize from a single case study, there are several similar case studies that have similar findings, so we can see a trend. In addition, the study is limited to one gender and culture. Research has shown that having social support is a key factor in resilience.  Another variable that may affect the results of the study is that we do not know what the children’s potential IQ actually was.  So we cannot really talk about the effect of the trauma.

Another study of deprivation and trauma was the Romanian orphan study.  Rutter studied Romanian orphans who were adopted by British parents to measure their development.  The orphans had been in terrible conditions.  Many were starving and there were cases of abuse.  All of the children were adopted between birth and 4 years old.   Rutter compared their development to a group of British orphans who had been adopted by British parents and who had not suffered deprivation.

Rutter carried out a series of cognitive tests as well as interviewed the parents. He found that the longer the children had been institutionalized, the more likely they were to have cognitive and social problems.  Social problems included a lack of close relationships and attention seeking behaviour.  Rutter concluded that the children that had the best chance of recovery were those that were adopted the earliest (less than 6 months old).

Rutter’s study is a longitudinal study, so he was able to observe change over time.  Another strength is that it had a large sample size.   However, once again, it is a case study, so it suffers from some of the same limitations as the Czech twin study. In addition, it is not possible to know how much of the children’s behaviour is due to malnourishment, privation or abuse.

One of the issues with deprivation and trauma studies is that a cause and effect relationship cannot be established.  There is no ethical way to carry out experimental research, so the researchers are reliant on correlational data.  Since it is not possible to control variables and it is not possible to measure physical, cognitive and social ability before the abuse, the best that we can find are trends.  Modern research on resilience seems to show that biological factors may also affect whether a person recovers or is left traumatized for their whole life.

Another problem with the deprivation and trauma research is that not all trauma is the same.  Comparing children who were sexually abused, neglected or physically tortured may not be the right way to do research.  It may also make a difference who did the abuse and what other ACEs the child suffered in their development.  

It appears that the stress of abuse and deprivation has a potential effect on the development of children.   These effects are physiological, cognitive and social.  However, there is some optimism in the research that shows that many children are more resilient than we can imagine.  However, as we see with Rutter’s research, there may be a critical period for improvement.

Essay feedback

A.  Focus on the question

The introduction clearly sets up the argument and the conclusion is relevant.  The essay is focused on the demands of the question and meets the command term. 2/2 marks.

B.  Knowledge and understanding

The essay demonstrates relevant, detailed understanding and makes good use of psychological vocabulary. 5/6 marks

C. Use of research

The essay demonstrates a clear understanding of two studies that are of high relevance to the demands of the question.  There is also some research used tangentially to support the argument, although this could be more effective.  5/6 marks.

D. Critical thinking

There is good evidence of critical thinking, although in a few cases it would have been better to make fewer points and develop ideas.  The critical thinking is focused both on the studies and the more holistic approach to the question. It is this holistic approach to the question which is necessary to get into the top markband. 5/6 marks

E. Clarity and organization

The essay is not highly redundant and the ideas are generally clearly expressed.  The paragraphs are coherent and the argument "makes sense." Language use is clear. 2/2

Total marks: 19/22

  Exemplar with comments

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