Poster C46, Sunday, March 26, 5:00 – 7:00 pm, Pacific Concourse
Exploring the Relationships Between Early-Life Environments of Scarcity, Parenting Style, and Working Memory in Childhood: A Cross-Species Study
Stephen H. Braren1, Rosemarie E. Perry1, Cristina M. Alberini1, Regina M. Sullivan2, Clancy Blair1; 1New York University, 2New York University School of Medicine
Early-life environments of resource scarcity, such as poverty, have enduring negative consequences on neurocognitive development. However, the specific mechanisms by which these detrimental effects operate remain unclear. Evidence from human studies suggests that parenting style may have protective potential in buffering against negative developmental outcomes. Although such human research is critical, assessing causality and exploring neurobiological mechanisms in the human is difficult. Thus, in the present study, we introduce a rodent model of scarcity and explore its impact on rodent caregiving style and working memory of offspring, and compare it to findings from a concurrent human study assessing the mediating effect of parenting on child’s working memory. Using data from a large, longitudinal sample of children and families in rural poverty, we first established that high levels of poverty significantly predicted poor working memory performance and cortisol levels in early childhood. We then found that sensitive parenting partially mediated these negative effects of poverty. In the rodent model of early-life scarcity, rodent mothers were provided with insufficient nesting materials, so that they could not build a proper nest for their pups, resulting in rough mother-infant interactions and elevated corticosterone levels in pups. Following these early-life rearing conditions, juvenile offspring were assessed in a working memory test (spontaneous alternation). Results revealed that juvenile rodents reared in scarcity conditions displayed significant working memory impairments with effects in the dorsal hippocampus. This research demonstrates the utility of rodent models in understanding the impacts of early-life stress on parenting and neurocognitive development in children.
Topic Area: EXECUTIVE PROCESSES: Working memory