Social Experience and the Developing Brain: Opportunities for Social Epidemiologists in the Era of Population-Based Neuroimaging
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Purpose of Review
There are an increasing number of studies using neuroimaging to understand associations between social conditions, including socioeconomic status, and the development of brain structure and function. From a population health perspective, this review summarizes the challenges of this work and highlights opportunities for collaboration with social epidemiologists as neuroimaging studies become more population-based.
While suggestive of broad associations with brain regions involved in cognitive and emotional processing, much of the work linking socioeconomic status to child brain structure or function is correlational and limited by the constraints common to most imaging work in this area: cross-sectional and observational study designs, inadequate adjustment for potential confounders, and non-representative samples.
As consortia implementing neuroimaging methods in large, population-based samples emerge, resulting datasets become more similar to epidemiological cohort studies where the outcomes of interest are measures of brain structure or function. Social epidemiologists, well versed in estimating causal associations from observational data, have the potential to contribute methods and theoretical models that this field may draw on improve causal inference. Synergy between the neurosciences and population health will result in more solution oriented, policy relevant work that will better inform efforts to reduce observed social disparities in child neurodevelopmental outcomes.
KeywordsNeuroimaging Socioeconomic factors Causal inference Neurodevelopment Population health Social epidemiology
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
Kaja Z. LeWinn and Emily W. Shih each declare no potential conflicts of interest.
Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent
This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.
Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance
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