A new study sheds light on how childhood adversity can affect the brain, and specifically showed that racism and poverty can physically alter the organ’s development.
Thousands of children’s MRI scans were examined
The findings were recently published in the American Journal of Psychiatry and involved Harvard researchers examining MRI scans of thousands of children – 7,350 white and 1,786 black.
The participants were all between the ages of nine and 10, and the goal was to explore “the relationship between racial differences in exposure to adversity and racial differences in brain structure.”
In other words, they essentially wanted to see how black and white children’s brains can develop differently because of the different challenges they face in society.
According to CNN, the researchers also noted that they wanted to dispel the “popular belief that blacks and whites have categorically different brains,” since any differences would really be due to the “disproportionate burden of people’s life experiences.”
Study Finds Trauma ‘May Contribute to Race Differences in Brain Structures’
The researchers found that “Black children, on average, experienced more traumatic events” than their white peers. Through the MRI scans, they also found that black children had “lower amygdala, hippocampus, and [prefrontal cortex] Gray matter volume compared to white children.”
For context, these parts of the brain are each associated with emotion regulation, memory formation, and decision making.
As a result, they found that adverse experiences such as racism and poverty “may contribute to racial differences in brain structures.”
Additionally, they noted that the research could provide “a glimpse” into the “different rates of psychiatric illness among blacks and whites in the United States.”
Notably, said Dr. Nathaniel Harnett — an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard — after revealing the findings, told CNN that the research suggests why “large-scale structural and systemic changes” are needed.
“The adversity these children face affects everyone, but in this case, it disproportionately burdens black children.”
What do you think of these findings?