Decades of research have confirmed the damaging effects of neighborhood disadvantage on physical, socioeconomic, and mental health outcomes. Even so, many children growing up in disadvantaged neighborhood contexts demonstrate adaptive competence. How do children achieve these resilient outcomes in the face of such adversity? Extant studies indicate that familial- and community-level factors protect these children from the many stressors found in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Very little work, however, has considered the neurobehavioral pathways through which these protective processes confer resilience. The proposed UG3/UH3 will do just this, identifying neural markers of resilience and illuminating the multilevel epigenetic, environmental, and genetic processes through which protective factors promote these neuro-resilient pathways. We propose to re-assess a sample of 500 adolescent twin pairs (at age 11-16 years; previously assessed between ages 6 and 10) residing in modestly-to-severely disadvantaged neighborhoods. We will employ cutting-edge neuroimaging methodologies (i.e., joint models that bridge task and resting fMRI, DTI, and sMRI) to identify the synergistic neural networks that are associated with resilience (operationalized here as adaptive competence and the absence of psychopathology), while also capitalizing on the longitudinal and genetically-informed nature of our unique `at-risk' twin sample to illuminate the etiologic processes underlying neural markers of resilience. We specifically postulate that, by protecting youth from the stressors presents in disadvantage contexts, positive parents and communities enable children to develop the normative neural architecture that undergirds subsequent adaptive outcomes, even in the face of adversity. Our genetically-informed developmental neuroscience approach will thus provide an unprecedented opportunity to illuminate the multilevel biobehavioral pathways leading to resilience, and in this way, fundamentally advance our understanding of adaptation in the face of chronic adversity.
The proposed UG3/UH3 will illuminate, for the very first time, the neural architecture underlying resilience to neighborhood disadvantage, and the etiologic processes through protective factors shape the developing brain.