CNS 2020 Virtual Meeting | Conference Videos
Symposium: Finances and Feelings: The Affective Neuroscience of SES
Introduction to Finances and Feelings: The Affective Neuroscience of SES at CNS 2020 Virtual in May 2020. Talk by symposium chair, Martha Farah, University of Pennsylvania Abstract: Depression is twice as common at the lowest income levels than at the highest. Stands to reason, you might say; no need for neuroscience to understand why. But people who are poor during childhood and become more affluent as adults continue to be at elevated risk. It appears that early life socioeconomic status (SES) influences brain development in ways that have lifelong effects on our emotional responses to positive and negative events and to social situations, as well as our ability to regulate our emotions. This impacts rates of psychopathology, especially affective disorders, and also levels of well-being within the healthy population. It does so by mechanisms that begin prenatally and operate in postnatal life under the influence of factors such as stress and parenting practices. The neural differences associated with SES are even associated with parents' feelings and behaviors toward the next generation, their own children. In this symposium we will hear from four leaders in the affective neuroscience of SES, whose work spans brain activity in prenatal life, early childhood, later childhood to adulthood, and parent-child processes. While covering different periods of life, the presentations will be unified by a number of common themes: psychosocial and physiological stress, limbic and prefrontal systems and networks, and positive feedback loops operating within individuals and across generations. A final discussion will solicit thoughts from the speakers and the audience about ways of breaking cycles of disadvantage and despair and promoting well-being for all.
TALK 1: Neural Correlates of Poverty Observed in the Human Fetal Brain: Implications for Postnatal Wellbeing
Moriah Thomason, NYU/Langone Medical Center
Prenatal poverty is associated with increased risk for preterm birth, intrauterine growth restriction, neonatal/infant death, and also cognitive and affective regulation in childhood. Here, we address whether prenatal poverty relates to formation of fetal brain circuitry that will support emotion processing in the future. An important target for research is identification of the earliest emergence of socioeconomic status (SES)-related differences in the human brain and their implications for postnatal behavior and wellbeing. We obtained functional MRI data in more than 100 normally-developing human fetuses from primarily low SES families and tested whether amygdala whole brain connectivity relates to familial SES. We observed reduced amygdala connectivity to prefrontal cortex, posterior insula, and cerebellum, and increased local connectivity in fetuses of families with the lowest SES. Some of these differences predict childhood abilities, including self-regulation. Future research confirming that system-level brain organization in utero is altered in fetuses of low SES mothers could motivate new lines of research into physiological processes and chemical and/or epigenetic pathways by which maternal resources program the human central nervous system in the womb.
TALK 2: SES, Early Experience and Brain Development: Informing a Science of Neurodevelopmental Enhancement
Joan Luby, Washington University
There is increasing evidence for the effects of early experiences of poverty, adversity and nurturance on childhood brain development, a problem we have studied at the Early Emotional Development Lab at Washington University. These effects are known to be enhanced during sensitive periods when neural architecture is maximally informed by the environment for adaptation to future expected experiences. Evidence for sensitive periods for cognitive enhancement prior to the age of 2 have been inferred in experimental studies in humans and we have shown sensitive periods for maternal support on hippocampal development in longitudinal studies. Our data and others, find regional specificity of experiences of both adversity and nurturance on brain regions associated with children’s affective functioning and the timing of exposures show that there is both timing and regional specificity to these effects. These findings along with others from the extant literature, as well as the need for new targeted investigations in developing humans and animal models, will be considered to inform a new science of early childhood neurodevelopmental enhancement. Such a model could be feasibly used in primary care settings to optimize neurodevelopment. This could be done by providing clear guidelines for when it is most important to protect developing children from certain forms of adversity and when it is most important for them to experience enhancement through nurturance and stimulation. The resulting neurodevelopmental enhancement model would be a feasible public health application of findings on adversity, brain development and affective functioning.
TALK 3: Executive and Emotion Regulation Networks Associated with Resilience to Poverty and Early Adversity
Robin Nusslock, Northwestern University
Individuals exposed to early-life adversity, including being raised in a family of low socioeconomic status, are vulnerable to emotional and physical problems across the lifespan. However, not everyone exposed to adversity is affected, which raises an important question: what enables some to remain healthy whereas others deteriorate? We first test the hypothesis that heightened activity in the brain’s central executive network (CEN), which regulates emotions and limbic reactivity, might reflect a neurobiological marker of resilience. We enrolled 218 urban youth and characterized their exposure to neighborhood violence. Cardiometabolic health and resting state functional connectivity (rsFC) were assessed. As expected, higher neighborhood violence was associated with greater cardiometabolic problems, but only among individuals who displayed lower rsFC in the CEN. We next examined whether receiving supportive parenting during adolescence helps strengthen connectivity in the CEN and an emotion regulation network (ERN) while growing up in poverty. In a sample of African Americans (N = 119) living in the rural South, poverty status and receipt of supportive parenting were assessed during adolescence and rsFC was assessed using fMRI at age 25. As predicted, more years spent living in poverty presaged less CEN and ERN rsFC among young adults who received low levels of supportive parenting, but not among those who received high levels of such parenting. Collectively this suggests that heightened central executive and emotion regulation tendencies may help protect individuals from the consequences of early-life adversity and that supportive parenting can help foster these tendencies in the face of such adversity.
TALK 4: Socioeconomic Disadvantage and the Neuroscience of Mother-Infant Attachment
Pilyoung Kim, University of Denver
Socioeconomic disadvantage such as poverty can increase distress levels, which may make low-income mothers more vulnerable to difficulties in the transition to parenthood. Cumulative risk, exposure to multiple stressors, is one of the main environmental mechanisms by which socioeconomic disadvantage is associated with negative brain and psychological functioning. Cumulative risk has also been linked to negative postpartum outcomes including harsh parenting, which can further influence how socioeconomic disadvantage may be transmitted to the next generation. Thus, the goal of the current study was to investigate whether cumulative risk may disrupt the neural and behavioral development of mother-infant attachment. We examined the association of cumulative risk with the brain response to infant cries and maternal behaviors, in a sociodemographically diverse sample (42% low income) of first-time mothers (N=53). Cumulative risk across socioeconomic (low income, financial stress, food insecurity), physical environment (substandard housing, noise, crowding), and psychosocial (marital dissatisfaction, violence, troubles with social services) domains was associated with reduced brain response to infant cries compared to white noise in several regions including the right insula/inferior frontal gyrus and superior temporal gyrus. Reduced activation in these regions was further associated with lower maternal sensitivity observed during a mother-infant interaction recorded at a home visit. The findings demonstrate that exposure to multiple stressors that are associated with socioeconomic disadvantage may be associated with reduced brain response to an infant’s cry in brain regions that are important for emotional and social information processing, and associated with increased difficulties in developing positive mother-infant relationships.