MRI Scans Show That Racism and Poverty Are Likely to Alter Black Children’s Brains

MRI Scans Show That Racism and Poverty Are Likely to Alter Black Children’s Brains

Well, it may be common knowledge for Black people, but MRI scans have revealed how the impact of “toxic stress” caused by racism and poverty on Black children’s brains can impact mental health in later life.

study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that disparities in 8 of 14 brain areas were affected by adverse childhood experiences, such as coming from a low income household.

According to CNN, researchers analyzed the MRI scans of Black children in the US to identify differences in the volume of certain brain structures. They found that these could accumulate as children grow older and play a role in the development of mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), in later life.

The report also stated that lower brain volume was detected in children with lower household income — both Black and white. However, Black children are more likely to live in lower-income households in the US, as they are in the UK, so they were more likely to be impacted.

“Toxic stress” refers to prolonged exposure to adverse experiences that leads to excessive activation of stress response systems and an accumulation of stress hormones, which in turn disrupt the immune and metabolic regulatory systems and ultimately the developing brain structure.

“Taken together, early-life adversity may act as a toxic stressor that disproportionately impacts Black children as a result of their significantly greater exposure to adversity and contributes to differential neural development of key threat-processing regions,” researchers said.

Researchers added: “The findings from this study thus have important implications for our understanding of the impact of socioeconomic and environmental inequalities on mental health in the United States and our understanding of racial differences in psychiatric disorder development, particularly PTSD (…).

“Although more research is needed on the neurobiological consequences of racial disparities in childhood adversity, the present findings offer new insight into biological impacts of disproportionate stress exposure.”

Nathaniel G. Harnett, who led the study and is director of the Neurobiology of Affective Traumatic Experiences Laboratory at McLean Hospital, said: “The adversity that these kids are exposed to, it impacts everyone, but it disproportionately burdens Black children in this case.”