Neural mechanisms underlying the income-achievement gap: The role of the ventral visual stream


Rosen, M. L., Lurie, L. A., Sambrook, K. A., Melzoff, A. N., & McLaughlin, K. A. (2021). Neural mechanisms underlying the income-achievement gap: The role of the ventral visual stream. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience , 52.
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Children from low-socioeconomic status (SES) households on average exhibit lower academic achievement than their higher-SES peers. We investigated a novel hypothesis that differences in early-developing sensory networks—specifically the ventral visual stream (VVS), which is involved in processing visual stimuli—contribute to SES-related disparities in executive functions (EF) and academic outcomes. We used fMRI to investigate SES-related differences in neural function in children (6–8 years, n = 62) during two attentional tasks involving attention to visual information: cued attention and memory-guided attention. Recruitment of VVS during both tasks was associated with EF and academic achievement, and SES-related differences in VVS activation during cued attention were marginally explained by differences in cognitive stimulation. VVS activation during cued attention mediated SES-related differences in academic achievement. Finally, the link between VVS activation during both tasks and academic achievement was mediated by differences in EF. We extend previous work by highlighting that: (i) early-developing visual processing regions play a role in supporting complex attentional processes, (ii) childhood SES is associated with VVS function, which is explained in part by SES-related differences in cognitive stimulation and (iii) provide preliminary evidence that individual differences in VVS function may play a role in the emergence of the income-achievement gap.

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