It has recently been found that material hardship impacts the development of a child. Specifically, authors Huang and Sherraden (2016) found that material hardship has a negative association with the social-emotional development of young children. Although it is generally known that different aspects impact the physical and emotional development of children, it is unclear as to which have a direct effect on a child’s brain development. To be successful in life, the development of all areas in the child’s brain are important, however the maturation f the hippocampal region is key in a child’s early life of learning.
This area is known for it’s functions of learning and storing information. The current study will investigate the hippocampal region using a variety of measures to assess the variation of size and activity to further explore the effects of material hardship on the developing brains of children. Material hardship is defined as not having the perceived minimal necessities for daily life function. Authors Huang and Sherraden (2016) wrote that material hardship is common in USA households and that ven middle-income households experience this.
The difference from material hardship and social economic status (SES) is that families of all statuses can say that they have material hardship, even if their income is in the category of being financially stable. A good example of this would be a single mother with three children who is considered by the government to have an income that can provide enough for the household, however the family may still feel they have material hardship because not all their needs are being met.
This is looking at perceived aterial hardship in the households could be related to the underdevelopment of brain areas associated with learning. Prior research, as mentioned before, has presented strong correlations of SES and the developing human brain. Noble, Houston, Kan, & Sowell (2012) looked at 60 socioeconomically diverse children and various regions of their brains. They found that there is a high significant SES difference in regional brain volume were observed in the hippocampus and the amygdala.
However, their study did not present any qualitative data on the variation of the developing brains. Socioeconomic disparities have been found to be associated with remarkable differences in cognitive and socio-emotional development, however I believe that perceived material hardship in a household also plays a role in a child’s development too. The current study will not be looking at socioeconomic statuses, instead I will be studying the effects of perceived material hardship and the brain development of elementary children.
Elementary children are usually between the ages of 7 and 9, thus their brains are still developing. Furthermore, a longitudinal study will be used o collect data over 5 years to better the study’s validity and show a stronger correlated relationship. Noble, Norman & Farah (2015) wrote that the ability to form new memories is essential to success in school for learning, thus the full development of the hippocampal region is crucial. I plan to investigate the variation of size and activity of the hippocampus area, by using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
An MRI will be used to show the size of the hippocampal region. I propose that the material hardship of a family will negatively affect the development of he child’s hippocampal region. Methods Participants Between 50 and 100 children will be recruited from 3 public elementary schools in the Roanoke Valley, and from the ages of 7-9 years. All participants will be required to have a parent/ guardian consent and the child must give verbal consent as wellI. Furthermore, participants have to be from either low or high socioeconomic status.
The experiment will be conducted in accordance with the guidelines of Roanoke College Institutional Review Board. Also, subject or subject’s guardian will be remunerated $25/hr for their time. Materials/Equipment Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) will be used, to collect the baseline data of the participants in the study. The MRI images will then be used to collect data on the different sizes of the subject’s hippocampus. Size will be determined by measuring the 2D image. This will be done by measuring the hippocampus length and width and then put into either two categories based on if it is developed or underdeveloped.
A pre and post questionnaire on paper will be given to the parents or guardians of the participants. The questionnaire will be close ended and ill proceed in order of topics: demographics, socioeconomic status, annual income, education achieved, and the perceived material hardship. Material hardship questions will have two broad categories, such as, household bill and household characteristics. Household bills will be questions similar to the study of Huang et al (2016), such as, whether their household had enough money to pay for necessary housing, clothes, food and medical care.
Responses could range from a scale of strongly agree (3) to strongly disagree (0). Thus, at the end of the survey, higher scores will indicate more material hardship. On the other category, parents will be asked about the characteristics of the household, such as, size of family, number of all children living in house, housing status, and if they receive welfare benefits or not. Procedures A natural experiment design will be used as there will be no attempt to intervene or change the situation.
Extraneous variables, such as location and experimenter will be held constant by running participants individually with the same MRI scanner by the same researcher. The parents/guardians of the participants will first be asked a series of questions to confirm hat it is safe for them to enter a research magnet machine. Caretakers of the participants must confirm that the participants are free of neurological impairments, psychiatric disability, learning disability, mental retardation, autism, and exposure to prenatal teratogens (Nobel, Houston, Kan, Sowell, 2012).
Following, the experiment will be explained to the parents/guardians and they and their child will give consent. After the child participates in the study (5 years later), the parents/guardians will be debriefed as to the expected results and how their data will be used. After the initial interview, parents/guardians will be given the pre-questionnaire on paper to fill out while their child is getting the baseline MRI scan. The survey will be of minimal risk, because the questions will not be emotionally upsetting.
The adults will have 45 minutes to complete the survey in an individual, private pod area so that they feel they can answer the questions truthfully, without judgment. This questionnaire will also be given in each year assessment. The subject’s parents/guardians will be reminded that again they will be paid for volunteering their time to this study. Subjects will first be placed into the MRI to get scans of the entire brain and then specifically the hippocampal region.
Multiple scans will be taken, with each scan lasting only a few minutes, with the entire screening only taking 30 minutes in all. The MRI room will be quiet with only the two assistant researchers in the room. The child will not be held down during the scan because of traumatization, but if the child can not stay still then his/her data will be excluded from the entire sample. However, the two researchers will be there to talk the participants through the experience.