Study Highlights How Racism Can Impact Brain Development

Study Highlights How Racism & Poverty Can Impact Black Children’s Brain Development

A new study sheds light on how childhood adversity can impact the brain, and it specifically showed that racism and poverty can physically alter the organ’s development.

Thousands Of Kids’ MRI Scans Were Examined

The findings were recently published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, and it involved Harvard researchers examining MRI scans taken from thousands of children—7,350 white, and 1,786 Black.

Participants were all aged between nine and ten years old, and the objective was to explore “the relationship between racial disparities in adversity exposure and race-related differences in brain structure.”

In other words, they essentially wanted to see how Black and white children’s brains can develop differently as a result of the dissimilar challenges they face in society.

According to CNN, the researchers also noted that they wanted to dispel the “folk belief that Black and white people have categorically different brains,” as any differences would really stem from the “disproportionate burden of life experiences that people have.”

Study Finds That Trauma ‘May Contribute To Race-Related Differences In Brain Structures’

The researchers uncovered that, on average, “Black children experienced more traumatic events” than their white peers. By way of the MRI scans, they also found that Black children “showed lower amygdala, hippocampus, and [prefrontal cortex] gray matter volumes compared with white children.”

For context, these parts of the brain are respectively associated with emotion regulation, memory formation, and decision making.

As a result, they found that adverse experiences like racism and poverty “may contribute to race-related differences in brain structures.”

Additionally, they noted that the research “may provide insight” into the “disparate rates of psychiatric disease among Black and white individuals in the United States.”

Notably, after uncovering the findings, Dr. Nathaniel Harnett—an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard—told CNN that the research points to why “large-scale structural and systemic change” is needed.

“The adversity that these kids are exposed to, it impacts everyone, but it disproportionately burdens Black children in this case.”

What do you think about these findings?


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