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How parents see themselves may affect their child's brain and stress level
Date:8/9/2013

Boston, Mass., -- A mother's perceived social status predicts her child's brain development and stress indicators, finds a study at Boston Children's Hospital. While previous studies going back to the 1950s have linked objective socioeconomic factors -- such as parental income or education -- to child health, achievement and brain function, the new study is the first to link brain function to maternal self-perception.

In the study, children whose mothers saw themselves as having a low social status were more likely to have increased cortisol levels, an indicator of stress, and less activation of their hippocampus, a structure in the brain responsible for long-term memory formation (required for learning) and reducing stress responses.

Findings were published online August 6th by the journal Developmental Science, and will be part of a special issue devoted to the effects of socioeconomic status on brain development.

"We know that there are big disparities among people in income and education," says Margaret Sheridan, PhD, of the Labs of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston Children's Hospital, the study's first author. "Our results indicate that a mother's perception of her social status 'lives' biologically in her children."

Sheridan, senior investigator Charles Nelson, PhD, of Boston Children's Hospital and colleagues studied 38 children aged 8.3 to 11.8 years. The children gave saliva samples to measure levels of cortisol, and 19 also underwent functional MRI of the brain, focusing on the hippocampus.

Mothers, meanwhile, rated their social standing on a ladder on a scale of 1 to 10, comparing themselves with others in the United States. Findings were as follows:

  • After controlling for gender and age, the mother's self-perceived social status was a significant predictor of cortisol levels in the child. This finding is consistent with studies in animals. "In animal research, your stress response
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Contact: Meghan Weber
meghan.weber@childrens.harvard.edu
617-919-3110
Boston Children's Hospital
Source:Eurekalert

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