Neighborhood Poverty and Amygdala Response to Negative Face

Shervin Assari


Introduction: Considerable research has established a link between socioeconomic status (SES) and brain function. While studies have shown a link between poverty status and amygdala response to negative stimuli, a paucity of knowledge exists on whether neighborhood poverty is also independently associated with amygdala hyperactive response to negative stimuli. Purpose: Using functional brain imaging data, this study tested the association between neighborhood SES and the amygdala’s response to negative stimuli. Considering race as a sociological rather than a biological construct, we also explored racial heterogeneity in this association between non-Hispanic Black and non-Hispanic White youth. Methods: We borrowed the functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) data of the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. The sample was 2,490 nine to ten years old non-Hispanic Black and non-Hispanic White adolescents. The independent variable was neighborhood income which was treated as a continuous measure. The primary outcomes were the right and left amygdala response to negative face during an N-Back task. Age, sex, race, marital status, and family SES were the covariates. To analyze the data, we used linear regression models. Results: Low neighborhood income was independently associated with a higher level of amygdala response to negative face. Similar results were seen for the right and left amygdala. These effects were significant net of race, age, sex, marital status, and family SES. An association between low neighborhood SES and higher left but not right amygdala response to negative face could be observed for non-Hispanic Black youth. No association between neighborhood SES and left or right amygdala response to negative face could be observed for non-Hispanic White youth. Conclusions: For American youth, particularly non-Hispanic Black youth, living in a poor neighborhood predicts the left amygdala reaction to negative face. This result suggested that Black youth who live in poor neighborhoods are at a high risk of poor emotion regulation. This finding has implications for policy making to reduce inequalities in undesired behavioral and emotional outcomes. Policy solutions to health inequalities should address inequalities in neighborhood SES.

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