Poverty is associated with many negative outcomes including higher rates of school problems (e.g., dropping out of school), mental health problems such as (e.g., depression, anxiety), physical health problems (e.g., obesity), behavioral problems (e.g., aggression), and developmental delays. However, the good news is that there is some evidence that supportive parenting can help protect against the negative impact of poverty.
As reported by Reuters, a study in Australia looked at the impact of poverty on development using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans on adolescents. What the researchers found was that the adolescents who came from the most disadvantaged neighborhoods showed structural brain differences in the temporal lobes, which is central to language, memory, and emotional processing.
The research team also measured supportive parenting by having the parents and their adolescents complete two tasks together, which the team then counted for the number of positive interactions initiated by the mothers.
Again based on the brain scans, positive parenting appeared to buffer against the negative impact of poverty, particularly in an area of the brain called the amygdala, which is central to processing emotions. That is to say, there were fewer structural brain changes for adolescents who live in poverty when they had supportive mothers.
The worst outcomes were found for adolescents who did not have supportive parents and who came from the worst neighborhoods. This group of adolescents were at higher risk of dropping out of school, particularly for boys.
This study is interesting because it shows how family factors physically change how we develop, including how well our brains develop. It also indicates that parenting interventions can help mitigate some, although likely not all, of the negative influences poverty has on development.
It would be interesting to see a similar study be conducted with fathers to see what their impact on development is. In addition, studies that monitor brain development starting in childhood should be conducted to help us understand the timing of these structural brain changes so that we know when to best target interventions (likely the earlier the better).
This study highlights the important interactions between mental health and physical health, check out other similar posts on the blog here.
Article link: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-adolecents-brain-parenting-idUSKBN19K2VG
The Clinically Relevant Insights Blog, part of ShawnWilsonPhD.com, shares news and research related to psychology and wellness.