New research has found growing up in a disadvantaged neighbourhood may have negative effects on children’s brain development. But for males, at least, positive parenting negated these negative effects, providing some good lessons for parents.
Living in a disadvantaged neighbourhood (where there are more people who have low income jobs or are unemployed, are less educated, and have less access to resources) can cause stress, and has been linked with psychological and social problems in children and adolescents.
This may come about because of limited access to resources such as quality education and medical care, or because adults in these neighbourhoods have fewer ties to the community and are less likely to monitor children.
But how could neighbourhood disadvantage lead to problems? During childhood and adolescence the brain is growing and changing rapidly, making it “plastic” or malleable, and susceptible to being changed by experience. So one way neighbourhood disadvantage might lead to negative outcomes in children and adolescents is by changing the way the brain develops.
Stress and the brain
We studied adolescents aged 12 to 19 from a broad range of neighbourhoods in Melbourne. We investigated whether neighbourhood disadvantage and family socioeconomic status were associated with brain development and functioning (including school completion).
We found growing up in a disadvantaged neighbourhood had detrimental effects on adolescent brain development, but that measures of family-based socioeconomic status (such as parental income, occupation or education) were not related to brain development.
Our results suggest growing up in more disadvantaged neighbourhoods may lead to slower cortical brain development. The cortex is the outer layer of brain, and plays a role in nearly all brain processes related to attention, perception, memory, thought, problem solving, language, motor functions and social abilities.
The altered development may be due to increased stress associated with living in a disadvantaged neighbourhood. The effects of stress on the structure of the brain are well known. Stress hormones might lead…