Modeling socioeconomic effects on the development of brain and behavior

AbstractWe used a population-level connectionist model of cognitive development to unify a range of empirical findings on the influence of socioeconomic status (SES) on behavior and brain development. The model captured qualitative patterns of development in behavior and brain structure, including reductions in connectivity across development (gray matter, cortical thickness) as behavioral accuracy increases. Individual differences in SES were implemented by altering the level of stimulation available in the environment. At the brain level, the model simulated non-linear effects of SES on cortical surface area (Noble et al., 2015), and faster cortical thinning across development in children from lower SES backgrounds (Piccolo et al., 2016). At the behavioral level, the model simulated the effect of SES on IQ, whereby gaps are observed to widen across development (von Stumm & Plomin, 2015). The model’s main shortcoming was insufficient growth in connection magnitude across development in lower SES groups, implying that some aspects of the growth of connection strengths may be maturational (e.g., myelination) rather than experience dependent.

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