Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2020

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Master of Arts (AM/MA)

Degree Type



The relationship between poverty and unfavorable cognitive outcomes has been a robust finding, but most previous research has focused on individual household poverty. There is increasing evidence that neighborhood context explains unique variance not accounted for when only considering household-level SES. The aim of the current study was to determine whether neighborhood poverty (NP) is related to differences in scores on cognitive tests and prefrontal/hippocampal brain structure in ways that are dissociable from household SES. A cross-sectional baseline sample of the longitudinal Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study. Data was collected at 21 sites across the United States, with the majority situated within urban and suburban areas. NP and household SES were included as predictors of NIH Toolbox Cognitive Battery subtests and hippocampal and prefrontal (dlPFC, dmPFC, SFG) volumes. Predictor variables were first considered independently and then together in mixed effects models with age, sex, and intracranial volume included as covariates. Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) was used to examine indirect effects of brain structure mediating between NP and cognitive tasks. The tested hypotheses were formulated after data collection. 11,875 nine- and 10-year-old children (48% female) were analyzed. Greater NP was related to lower scores across all cognitive domains (std. bs = -0.069 to -0.18, p < 0.001), as well as to decreased brain volume in the dlPFC, dmPFC, SFG, and right hippocampus (std. bs = -0.036 to -0.094, ps = 0.009 to < 0.001), even when accounting for household income. Greater household income was related to higher scores across all cognitive domains (std. bs = 0.067 to 0.3, p < 0.001) as well as larger volume in all prefrontal and hippocampal brain regions (std. bs = 0.044 to 0.076, p < 0.001) even when accounting for NP. The indirect effects model was a good fit across all cognitive domains, with prefrontal regions mediating the NP effects in language, episodic memory, and working memory, and hippocampal regions mediating for language and episodic memory. In conclusion, NP uniquely predicts differences in scores on cognitive tests and prefrontal/right hippocampal brain volume. These findings demonstrate the importance of including broader environmental influences when conceptualizing early life adversity.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Deanna M. Barch, Psychological and Brain Sciences

Committee Members

Denise Head, Joshua J. Jackson

Available for download on Friday, September 06, 2047