Childhood Poverty, Maltreatment, Violence and Brain Development
This study will investigate how childhood poverty, maltreatment, and violence influence adult brain function and morphology, as well as exploring underlying mechanisms that may account for developmental brain effects.
Specific aims of this study are:
1. To determine how childhood poverty, maltreatment & violence influence adult brain function & morphology.
2. To investigate underlying mechanisms that might account for the developmental brain effects of poverty.
We hypothesize that chronic physiological stress dysregulation (elevated allostatic load) as well as harsh or unresponsive parenting during childhood, including maltreatment and violence will account for some of the expected linkages between childhood poverty and adult brain structure and function.
One fifth of America’s children grow up in poverty. While there is good evidence that this is injurious to health, achievement, and socioemotional adjustment, very little is known about the role of the brain. We thus wonder: (1) How does childhood poverty, maltreatment and violence influence adult brain function and morphology? (2). What underlying mechanisms might account for developmental brain effects? We hypothesize that chronic physiological stress dysregulation as well as harsh, unresponsive parenting during childhood account for expected linkages between childhood poverty and adult brain function and morphology – particularly in the hippocampus, amygdala, and the anterior cingulate prefrontal cortex. This work builds on a 15+ year, ongoing longitudinal research program focused on childhood poverty, physiological stress, and socioemotional development conducted by Evans (a developmental psychologist colleague at Cornell), plus a brain imaging project at UM led by Swain (“GO-grant RC2 MD004767) on a subset of this cohort. Half of this sample of 52 subjects (age ~23) grew up below the poverty line and half middle income – divided equally by gender. The sample is well characterized, longitudinally in real time over their life course across multiple demographic variables, plus both physical and psychosocial risk exposures. Primary outcome variables include multi-methodological indicators of physiological stress (neuroendocrine, cardiovascular, and metabolic) plus parental, self, and teacher ratings of socioemotional development (internal/externalization and self-regulation), plus in depth data on parenting, exposure to violence and family turmoil.