To determine whether structural and individual forms of stigma are associated with neurodevelopment in children.
Stigma related to gender, race, and Latinx ethnicity was measured at the structural level using objective state-level indicators of social policies and prejudicial attitudes and at the individual level using self-reports of perceived discrimination. Respective associations of stigma with hippocampal volume and amygdala reactivity to threat were examined using data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study (N = 11,534, mean age 9.9 years), the first multisite neuroimaging study that provided substantial variability in sociopolitical contexts and that included individual-level measures of stigma among youth.
In a preregistered analysis, Black (B = −58.26, p = .023) and Latinx (B = −40.10, p = .044) youths in higher (vs lower) structural stigma contexts were found to have smaller hippocampal volume, controlling for total intracranial volume, demographics, and family socioeconomic status. This association was also observed at a trend-level among girls (p = .082). The magnitude of the difference in hippocampal volume between high and low structural stigma states was equivalent to the predicted impact of a $20,000 difference in annual family income in this sample. As hypothesized, structural stigma was not associated with hippocampal volume in nonstigmatized youths, providing evidence of specificity. Perceived discrimination was unrelated to hippocampal volume in stigmatized groups. No associations between perceived discrimination or structural stigma and amygdala reactivity to threat were observed.
This study provides novel evidence that an objective measure of structural stigma may be more strongly related to hippocampal volume than subjective perceptions of stigma, suggesting that contextual approaches to stigma could yield new insights into neurodevelopment among marginalized youth.