Effect of Stress on Brain Function

Brief Description:

In this study, we are interested in the role that stress plays in brain development, in particular how children’s brains are developing across childhood as they learn how to remember and reason. We are interested in how individual stress reactivity might affect the development of the brain and these abilities in subtle ways.

Eligibility for study participation:

We are currently recruiting typically developing 8 to 12 year olds who were born within 2 weeks of their due date.

Participation Details

This study involves 2 or 3 visits to the lab. There will be two visitsin the Longwood medical area, and one optional visit at Children’s Hospital in Waltham. Each visit will last no more than 2 hours. Because this study requires a fair amount of travel we pay participants $30 per visit for travel (in addition to reimbursement for time) or we can provide transportation to either Waltham or Longwood. During one of these visits we will ask questions of both the participating child and their parent/guardian.

Research Contact:

Margaret Sheridan

Full Description

The ability to remember things and reason through everyday problems is critical to living successfully as an adult. Research suggests that these abilities have a long developmental trajectory over the course of childhood and into adolescence. This long trajectory of development is different than other abilities which are solidified when children are relatively young, like vision. Because of this long trajectory we believe that these abilities might be much more impacted by the experiences a child has and their reactions to these experiences. What parts of a child’s experiences or reactions might result in differences in their ability to plan, organize, and remember things? Could their reaction to mildly stressful experiences be part of what affects their brain development?

In this study, we are interested the effects of stress on the development of planning and memory abilities in children and the associated brain areas. In the study, children first have their heart rate measured while they count backwards from a high number, an experience which raises their heart rate slightly, a measure of the child’s sensitivity to stress (session 1). Next, they look at some pictures of people and houses which they try to remember while we record their brain waves (session 2). In addition, during this session we have them and their parent/guardian do some puzzles and vocabulary games. Finally we invite them to come to CHB Waltham where they get an MRI of their brain while playing more memory and planning games.

The way in which children perform these tasks is of particular interest to researchers, as children’s brains are still in the process of developing and changing. Using these tasks we can tell if a child’s sensitivity to stress is related to their brain function when they are doing memory and planning games. A child’s performance on memory and planning games predicts success in school and may be related to health in adulthood. By learning how stress sensitivity is related to these brain functions we can find ways to insure that all children have the kind of environment in which they can flourish.