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Abstract

Socioeconomic disparities in childhood are associated with remarkable differences in cognitive and socio-emotional development during a time when dramatic changes are occurring in the brain. Yet, the neurobiological pathways through which socioeconomic status (SES) shapes development remain poorly understood. Behavioral evidence suggests that language, memory, social-emotional processing, and cognitive control exhibit relatively large differences across SES. Here we investigated whether volumetric differences could be observed across SES in several neural regions that support these skills. In a sample of 60 socioeconomically diverse children, highly significant SES differences in regional brain volume were observed in the hippocampus and the amygdala. In addition, SES × age interactions were observed in the left superior temporal gyrus and left inferior frontal gyrus, suggesting increasing SES differences with age in these regions. These results were not explained by differences in gender, race or IQ. Likely mechanisms include differences in the home linguistic environment and exposure to stress, which may serve as targets for intervention at a time of high neural plasticity.