How socioeconomic status shapes developing brains

How socioeconomic status shapes developing brains

The relationship between socioeconomic status (SES) and brain anatomy is mostly stable from childhood to early adulthood, according to a longitudinal neuroimaging study of more than 600 healthy young people published in JNeurosci. This finding draws attention to the importance of preschool life as a period when associations between SES and brain organization may first develop.

Researchers analyzed brain scans of the same individuals collected over time between five and 25 years of age. Comparing this data to parental education and occupation and each participants' intelligence quotient (IQ) allowed the researchers to demonstrate positive associations between SES and the size and surface area of brain regions involved in cognitive functions such as learning, language, and emotions.

In particular, this is the first study to associate greater childhood SES with larger volumes of two subcortical regions - the thalamus and striatum - thereby extending previous SES research that has focused on its relationship to the cortex. Surface-based shape analysis revealed that higher SES is associated with areal expansion of (i) lateral prefrontalnterior cingulate, lateral temporalnd superior parietal cortices and (ii) ventrolateral thalamicnd medial amygdalo-hippocampal sub-regions. Meta-analyses of functional imaging data indicate that cortical correlates of SES are centered on brain systems subserving sensorimotor functions, language, memorynd emotional processing.

Finally, the researchers identify brain regions underlying the relationship between SES and IQ. Authors identify neuroanatomical correlates of SES that exist above and beyond accompanying variation in IQ. 
A better understanding of these relationships could clarify the processes by which SES becomes associated with a range of life outcomes, and ultimately inform efforts to minimize SES-related variation in health and achievement.