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Title: The environment and child development : a multivariate approach
Author: Johnson, Amy
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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The environment that a child grows up in has a profound effect on their child development. For example, key outcomes such as academic ability or behaviour, cognitive ability and the neurobiology of the brain have been found to be associated to a child's environment. However, the factors that make up a child's environment are highly complex and yet the majority of research treats SES as a single number. In addition, the environment is related to several aspects of a child's development, yet there is very little research considering how these multiple levels of development relate to each other and interact. This thesis builds on the current literature by investigating how multiple aspects of a child's environment combine to create an environmental profile that is associated with positive child development. We endeavour to address three questions: 1) Which environmental factors most strongly relate to a child's academic ability, behaviour, cognitive ability and neural development? 2) Does the wider environment mediate the relationship between standard measures of SES and child development? 3) How might the environment impact academic and behaviour outcomes? In particular, is this relationship mediated by a child's cognition or the structural and functional connectivity of their brain? 7-11 year-old children (N=97) and their caregivers took part in this study. Several environmental domains and child behaviour were assessed through caregiver and child questionnaires. Academic and cognitive ability were measured using behavioural assessments. Resting state functional connectivity was measured using a magnetoencephalography (MEG) scan and structural connectivity was measured in an optional MRI scan on a separate visit (N=87). Partial Least Squares (PLS) methods identified significant relationships between the environment and child development. Multiple environmental domains were found to be reliably related to each aspect of child development. Furthermore, the wider environmental domains mediated the association between SES measures and each aspect of child development. Finally, cognition and the structural connectivity of a child's brain mediated the association between the environment and academic outcomes. This was not found for the behavioural outcomes. This thesis provides key advances towards addressing the considerable methodological challenge presented in the investigation of the complex relationships between a child's environment and multiple aspects of their development. We believe that this work will complement the available research to date and provide important detail to enable practitioners and policymakers to better support children at risk from disadvantaged environments.
Supervisor: Astle, Duncan Sponsor: Medical Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Child Development ; Neuroscience ; Cognition ; Cognitive ; Partial Least Squares ; PLS ; Multiple Imputation ; Poverty ; Socioeconomic Status ; SES ; MRI ; Magnetic Resonance Imaging ; MEG ; Magnetoencephalography ; Connectome ; Functional Connectome ; Structural Connectome ; Academic ; Behaviour ; Woodcock-Johnson ; BRIEF ; SDQ ; Working Memory ; Fluid Intelligence ; Verbal Intelligence ; Phonological ; Diffusion Tensor Imaging ; Resting State