Socioeconomic Disadvantage, Brain Morphometry, and Attentional Bias to Threat in Middle Childhood

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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Psychology


Socioeconomic disadvantage is associated with higher rates of psychopathology as well as hippocampus, amygdala and prefrontal cortex structure. However, little is known about how variations in brain morphometry are associated with socio-emotional risks for mood disorders in children growing up in families experiencing low income. In the current study, using structural magnetic resonance imaging, we examined the relationship between socioeconomic disadvantage and gray matter volume in the hippocampus, amygdala, and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex in a sample of children (n = 34) in middle childhood. Using an affective dot probe paradigm, we examined the association between gray matter volume in these regions and attentional bias to threat, a risk marker for mood disorders including anxiety disorders. We found that lower income-to-needs ratio was associated with lower bilateral hippocampal and right amygdala volume, but not prefrontal cortex volumes. Moreover, lower attentional bias to threat was associated with greater left hippocampal volume. We provide evidence of a relationship between income-related variations in brain structure and attentional bias to threat, a risk for mood disorders. Therefore, these findings support an environment-morphometry-behavior relationship that contributes to the understanding of income-related mental health disparities in childhood.

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