Childhood poverty, chronic stress, and young adult working memory: the protective role of self-regulatory capacity


Address for correspondence: Gary W. Evans, Human Ecology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853-4401, USA; e-mail:


Prior research shows that childhood poverty as well as chronic stress can damage children's executive functioning (EF) capacities, including working memory. However, it is also clear that not all children suffer the same degree of adverse consequences from risk exposure. We show that chronic stress early in life (ages 9–13) links childhood poverty from birth to age 13 to young adult working memory. However, 9-year-olds high in self-regulatory capacity, assessed by a standard delay of gratification protocol, are protected from such insults. Self-regulatory skills may afford the developing prefrontal cortex some protection from childhood poverty.