Observing Children’s Environments and Neurodevelopment (OCEAN)

Children reared in low-socioeconomic status (SES) households on average have lower levels of academic achievement than their high-SES counterparts. This is known as the income-achievement gap. In order to develop effective interventions at the individual, family and societal level, we need to understand the mechanisms that explain this gap. However, currently the precise neural, environmental, and cognitive mechanisms that drive differences in academic outcomes as a function of SES remain unclear. The OCEAN study seeks to understand these mechanisms in a sample of approximately 100 children in kindergarten in the Boston area. This study will consist of virtual home visits in which we will assess important aspects of the home environment including cognitive stimulation, language exposure and experience, and exposure to violence. Children will complete cognitive tests especially focused on executive function, attention, language, and visual processing—functions that are important foundations for school performance and have been shown to vary as a function of SES. Children will also undergo laboratory tests of academic achievement. Finally, children and a caregiver will come into the lab for a structural and functional MRI scan. We are interested in understanding the specific environmental factors that drive SES-related differences in cognitive and academic outcomes and furthermore uncovering how these differences may be mediated by differences in brain structure and function. This work has the potential to contribute to our understanding of the cognitive, environmental, and neural mechanisms underlying SES-related disparities in academic achievement. This study is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (K99-HD099203) to Dr. Maya Rosen and by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (R01-MH106482) to Dr. McLaughlin.