My career goal is to lead an interdisciplinary research group that investigates the influence of early environmental variations on cognitive development and future academic success. To acquire the specific training I will need to achieve this, I propose a project that measures socioeconomic status (SES), potential mediators, brain function, and memory during infancy to examine the mechanisms through which both SES disparities and bilingualism operate independently and jointly to influence developmental trajectories. Specifically, I, and my future lab, will integrate EEG neurophysiological measures and developmental psychology behavioral paradigms in order to investigate the effects of the linguistic environment and stress on memory across monolingual and bilingual infants from diverse SES backgrounds. My training to date has provided me with a strong foundation in behavioral paradigms assessing cognitive development; my career development plan expands on these methods, providing essential new training in EEG/ERP techniques, measurement of stress, and data collection with a low-income minority population. Since it is my goal to lead a lab that integrates a diverse set of methodologies to address interdisciplinary questions within the field of child development, my success as an independent researcher depends on these skills. Research Project An estimated 1 in 5 American children under the age of 6 live below the poverty line. Growing up in a lower SES home has been associated with substantially worse health and impaired psychological, cognitive, and emotional development throughout the lifespan. Further, it is well established that socioeconomic disadvantage in early childhood is associated with a range of negative effects on later cognitive development and academic achievement. Although some studies have suggested that bilingualism may buffer the cognitive risk associated with socioeconomic disadvantage, others have claimed that differences in SES may attenuate any bilingual advantages found in cognitive skills. Very few studies have attempted to examine the independent and joint effects of SES and bilingualism on early cognitive development, and furthermore no study to date has examined this topic during infancy. Thus, the proposed studies will examine SES, multiple language exposure, and hypothesized pathways through which socioeconomic disparities contribute to individual variation in early memory development. The first study will examine SES disparities in newborn brain function across infants from monolingual and bilingual backgrounds. The second study will measure the home linguistic environment as a possible mediator between SES and memory. Finally, I will utilize both neural and behavioral measures to assess the associations between SES, home linguistic environment, maternal stress, and the development of memory over the first year of life. Disentangling the independent and interacting effects of SES and bilingualism on cognitive development is crucial for identifying mechanisms of risk and resilience, and possible interventions, for lower SES minority children.

Public Health Relevance

Socioeconomic disadvantage has been linked to substantially worse health and impaired cognitive development throughout the lifespan. This proposal examines socioeconomic status (SES), multiple language exposure, and hypothesized pathways through which socioeconomic disparities influence memory during infancy. This work will help identify mechanisms of risk and resilience for lower SES children.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Transition Award (R00)
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Special Emphasis Panel (NSS)
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Alvarez, Ruben P
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New York University
Schools of Education
New York
United States
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Brito, Natalie H; Noble, Kimberly G; Pediatric Imaging, Neurocognition, Genetics Study (2018) The independent and interacting effects of socioeconomic status and dual-language use on brain structure and cognition. Dev Sci 21:e12688