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Understanding Poverty’s Impact on the Developing Brain

Image by David Nevala

Chronic stress for children growing up in poverty may lead to lasting effects on social, behavioral, cognitive and academic development.

This study, supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Development, examines the link between poverty and executive functions known to undergo rapid developmental change during the first years of life, including cognitive processes that facilitate learning, self-monitoring and decision making.

Our team at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will examine early neurological development in roughly 230 kids from birth to age 3. We will also investigate critical experiences of the home environment, including language exposure, caregiver behavior, and child sleep hygiene that may mediate the effect of this risk on child structural and functional brain development.

Kids in the study will partake in five visits during the first 3 years that includes neuroimaging at two weeks and 15 and 24 months of age. We will focus on developing white matter tracts that support cognitive processes of emerging executive functions: anterior cingulum (error monitoring); uncinate (joint attention); arcuate fasciculus (language processing) and individual differences in functional brain development, including resting state networks of salience, attention, executive control and default-mode. At 6 and 24 months of age, we will conduct an intensive home visit with observational and objective measures of caregiver behavior, language exposure (via speech recorders) and sleep hygiene. We will assess child cognitive development throughout the study and the emergence of executive functioning at 3 years of age.

This research is the first to investigate the influence of poverty on emerging executive functioning and infant neurological development over the first two years of life.

People Working on This Study

Sarah Short
Sarah J. Short
Assistant Professor, Dorothy King Chair in Educational Psychology, Center for Healthy Minds
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