Study: Stresses on Low-Income Children Can Have Adverse Effects

New research from the University of Rochester finds that certain types of family stresses of low-income children can have adverse effects on their bodies’ cortisol levels.  In turn, children with high and low cortisol levels were shown to have lower than average IQs than their less-stressed counterparts, according to the study, published last jweek in the journal Child Development

The study reveals that children from stressful home environments tend to have unhealthy levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their bodies, which may affect their cognitive development. The study tracked the cortisol levels of children for three years, between the ages of 2 and 4. Researchers found that exposure to family adversity predicted the children's cortisol profile (elevated, moderate, or low). That cortisol profile predicted their cognitive abilities at age 4. Children who lived in households with family instability and harsh and insensitive caregivers had either elevated or low cortisol profiles, and lower cognitive abilities when tested at age 4. With this information, prevention and intervention could help children from unstable homes develop better cognitive abilities.

The study, titled “Tracing Differential Pathways of Risk: Associations Among Family Adversity, Cortisol, and Cognitive Functioning in Childhood,” will be published in the journal Child Development and is embargoed until June 17. It was co-authored by Jennifer H. Suor, Melissa L. Sturge-Apple, Patrick T. Davies and Liviah G. Manning, from the University of Rochester, and Dante Cicchetti, from the University of Minnesota. 

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