How early adversity affects the brain

By Kaja Jasinska

1604_frontResearchers in Dhaka, Bangladesh are performing the first-ever comprehensive brain imaging study on children exposed to a range of biological and psychosocial hazards to development, including infants who are stunted.  Stunted growth, defined by the WHO as two standard deviations below the median height for age, is associated with poorer cognitive academic outcomes. To examine how factors such as nutrition, sanitation, and a host of psychosocial variables (e.g., poverty; maternal depression) contribute to growth and brain development, the research team, led by Prof. Charles A. Nelson, is using a variety of imaging techniques, including fNIRS. Thus far, fNIRS imaging at 36 months is revealing patterns of brain activation for social (e.g. face) and non-social (e.g. truck) stimuli that suggest atypical patterns of social information processing and differences in underlying cortical specialization. The study promises to reveal new insights into the development of children in the developing world, who are disproportionately affected by biological and psychosocial hazards to development.

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