Parental Education and Nucleus Accumbens Response to Reward Anticipation: Minorities’ Diminished Returns

Shervin Assari


Background. Considerable research has documented the effects of race and Socioeconomic Status (SES) on reward-seeking behaviors; however, less is known about the multiplicative effects of race and family SES on brain response to reward anticipation. Minorities’ Diminished Returns (MDRs) suggest that family SES would show weaker effects on brain development of children in non-White families than in White families. Objective. To test race by SES variation in Nucleus Accumbens (NAcc) response to reward anticipation (NAcc-RA) among American children. Methods. For this cross-sectional analysis, data came from the Adolescents Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study which included 6,419,9-10 year old children. The independent variable was parental education. The moderator was race. The primary outcome was the right NAcc-RA. Age, sex, ethnicity, household income, and family structure were the covariates. We used mixed-effect regression models that adjusted for the nested nature of the ABCD data. Results. While high parental education was associated with a higher amount of right NAcc-RA, this effect was stronger for White than non-White children. This finding was evident in the observed interactions between race and parental education on the right NAcc-RA. Discussion. For American children, NAcc-RA is not shaped by race or family SES, but by their intersection. As a result of the interaction between race and SES (diminished return of SES for non-Whites), middle-class racial minority children may remain susceptible to high-risk behaviors. Disparities in high-risk behaviors in children should not be reduced to economic disparities. Structural inequalities may reduce the return of SES resources for non-White families.

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