In studying human development, it is widely recognized that people both influence and are influenced by their circumstances. In normative development, the influence of the child’s circumstances on her/his health, personality, and social functioning is often subtle and unremarkable. However, when children grow up in extreme poverty and extraordinarily stressful circumstances, those circumstances are likely to have profound and lasting effects on them. In this project, we seek to integrate two previously separate approaches to studying child development: an ethnographic approach, which describes in great detail the stress and coping circumstances and experiences of each child over time, and a neurodevelopmental approach, which focuses on how the child’s life experiences influence (and, in turn, are influenced by) brain development. By taking advantage of three ongoing studies, we will be able to investigate how the life experiences of a group of poor rural children in North Carolina influence their well-being, their academic attainment, and their ability to deal with stress. To our knowledge, this is the first time that a study of children’s lives over time has attempted to integrate these two distinct research approaches. We are confident that the richness of the ethnographic data will help to illuminate how patterns of everyday stressors growing up in poverty affect brain development in ways that may distinguish these children from a comparison group of urban/suburban youth who already have participated in a study of emotion regulation and brain development. If we are successful, the data we obtain will support applications for larger grants to extend our study to a greater number of rural children.
Area(s) of Work: Child Health and Development
07/01/2015 to 06/30/2016