UMich study shows socioeconomic factors influence brain connectivity – The Michigan Daily | Wonder Mind Kids

Socioeconomic resources may be linked to changes in children’s brain connectivity, the pattern of anatomical connections between different neural systems in the brain, according to a University of Michigan study published in October. The study was conducted as part of the larger Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, for which the university is one of 21 sites ABCD is collaborating with, and used data from 5,821 children between the ages of nine and ten.

UM graduate Katherine Thorne, a research associate on the study, said participating in such a large study makes it easier to ensure they have a representative sample that spans the entire nation, rather than just a specific location.

“The study is really big, the sample is huge, but it was also designed to best represent the demographics of children in this age group in the United States,” Thorne said.

dr Sekhar Chandra Sripada, lead researcher on the study and a professor of psychiatry, said decades of social science research have shown that a household’s socioeconomic resources — such as household income, parental education levels and the quality of the neighborhood — can influence the behavior that a child’s mental health and educational outcomes. Psychologists, neuroscientists and psychiatrists have been interested in finding a clearer picture of the underlying mechanisms for these changes, and Sripada said this study aims to help.

“Somehow the environment probably affects the brain,” Sripada said. “It leads to changes in outcomes for these children, and that’s what we’re trying to characterize: the influence of the environment on the brain.”

The study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to analyze the functional connectivity of the brain at rest. While the subjects remained calm, different parts of the brain were imaged to trace the underlying cognitive mechanisms.

“The brain is a network, and we can map that network using imaging,” Sripada said. “Socioeconomic resources are associated with many changes in these networks.”

according to dr Katherine McCurry, study co-author and postdoctoral researcher, the results suggest that one of the most important variables associated with changes in brain connectivity is parental education.

“We found that (socioeconomic resources) had widespread effects on resting-state brain functional connectivity,” McCurry said. “We looked at household income versus needs, parental education, and neighborhood deprivation and found that this pervasive pattern in the brain, related to socioeconomic resources, is largely attributable to parental education.”

While parental education and household income compared to cost of living both showed a statistically significant association with changes in brain connectivity, parental education was found to have a stronger association. No statistically significant association was found between neighborhood disadvantages and connectivity differences. The study then looked at various reasons why a parent’s educational level might affect a child’s brain connections.

“We could find that some things like the enriching activities that a parent does with the child, like reading with a child, (or) talking to a child about ideas… were part of it, as was the cognitive ability of the child child and their school grades,” McCurry said. “Those three things made up part of that pattern, but certainly not all.”

Sripada said that when considering these results, it is important to acknowledge that there is still no detailed understanding of the significance of these changes in brain connectivity.

“The brain is a massively plastic entity,” Sekhar said. “Changes in the brain are by no means set in stone.”

LSA student Jill Charbonneau, president of the Cognitive Science Community and a dual major in cognitive science and sociology, said it’s important to understand that the brain is an ever-changing organ when conducting cognitive science research.

“So there are different associations that correlate (the study) with different criteria, so to speak,” Charbonneau said. “But that doesn’t mean they’re stagnant and stuck… The brain has great abilities to develop and grow.”

Charbonneau said the purpose of the study, to examine the impact of socioeconomic factors on physical brain function, is an emerging topic in cognitive science and sociological research.

“This isn’t something that’s been researched a lot, it’s something that’s definitely growing,” Charbonneau said. “It’s exciting to see what they find … and then we can (consider) how we address (socio-economic inequalities).”

Sripada said this study provides another opportunity to recognize the impact of inequality in the United States.

“I’m a scientist, but I’m also an individual with fairly deep and clear views on society and moral issues, regardless of my science,” Sripada said. “I have long held the view that the levels of inequality in the United States are excessive and need to be addressed. And it has negative consequences, especially for youth in terms of their mental health, physical health, academic outcomes, social outcomes and so on… I think (this study) is just a small part that (shows)… inequality is a problem . ”

Daily Staff Reporter Nadia Taeckens can be reached at

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