"The findings underscore the need to pay attention to the environment in which the child grows. Poverty and trauma have strong associations with behavior and brain development, and the effects are much more pervasive than previously believed," said the study's lead author Raquel E. Gur, MD, PhD, a professor of Psychiatry, Neurology, and Radiology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and director of the Lifespan Brain Institute.
Parents and educators are split into opposing camps with regard to the question of how childhood adversity affects development into mature, healthy adulthood. Views differ from "spare the rod and spoil the child" to concerns that any stressful condition such as bullying will have a harmful and lasting effects. Psychologists and social scientists have documented lasting effects of growing up in poverty on cognitive functioning, and clinicians observed effects of childhood trauma on several disorders, though mostly in the context of post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). There are also anecdotal observations, supported by some research, that adversity accelerates maturation -- children become young adults faster, physically and mentally. Neuroscientists, who are aware of the complexity of changes that the brain must undergo as it transitions from childhood to young adulthood, suspected, and more recently documented that childhood adversity affects important measures of brain structure and function. But this study was the first to compare the effects of poverty (L-SES) to those who experienced TSEs in the same sample set.
Researchers - Data - Philadelphia - Neurodevelopmental - Cohort
The researchers analyzed data from the Philadelphia Neurodevelopmental Cohort, which included 9,498 participants aged 8 to 21 years for the study. The racially and economically diverse cohort includes data on SES, TSEs, neurocognitive performance, and in a subsample, multimodal neuroimaging taken via MRI.
The researchers found specific associations of SES and TSE with psychiatric symptoms, cognitive performance, and several brain structure abnormalities.
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