Washington: While childhood is associated with making good memories, but for some, it is not the same. A new study reveals that children who grow up in poverty and face adversities are more likely to suffer impacts on brain development and behaviour.
The study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, also indicates that these sufferings are also linked to accelerated puberty and brain maturation, abnormal brain development, and greater mental health disorders.
“The findings underscore the need to pay attention to the environment in which the child grows. Poverty and trauma have strong associations with behaviour and brain development, and the effects are much more pervasive than previously believed,” said lead author Raquel E. Gur.
Researchers in the study compared the effects of poverty (L-SES) to those who experienced traumatic stressful events.
The study incorporated 9,498 participants aged 8 to 21 years and found specific associations of socioeconomic status and traumatic stressful events with psychiatric symptoms, cognitive performance, and several brain structure abnormalities.
The findings revealed that poverty was associated with a small elevation in the severity of psychiatric symptoms, including mood/anxiety, phobias, externalizing behaviour (oppositional-defiant, conduct disorder, ADHD), and psychosis, as compared to individuals who did not experience poverty.
It was startling to note that the magnitude of the effects of stressful events on psychiatric symptom severity was unexpectedly large.
The authors found that even a single traumatic event was associated with a moderate increase in severity for all psychiatric symptoms analyzed, and two or more events showed large effect sizes, especially in mood/anxiety and in psychosis.
Additionally, these effects appeared to be more in females than in males.
Both poverty and TSEs were associated with abnormalities across measures of brain anatomy, physiology, and connectivity. Poverty associations were widespread, whereas trauma was associated with more focused differences in the limbic and fronto-parietal regions of the brain, which processes emotions, memory, executive functions and complex reasoning.
The researchers also found evidence that adversity is associated with earlier onset of puberty. Both poverty and experiencing trauma are associated with the child physically maturing at an earlier age.
The findings revealed that a higher proportion of children who experienced adversity had characteristics of adult brains.
This affects development, as the careful layering of the structural and functional connectivity in the brain requires time, and early maturity could prevent the necessary honing of skills.
“We have seen unexpectedly strong effects of TSEs on psychiatric symptoms and of poverty on neurocognitive functioning, and both are associated with brain abnormalities,” Gur said.
He continued, “The study suggests that it makes sense for parents and anyone involved in raising a child to try and shield or protect the child from exposure to adversity.”