Children Born During Pandemic Show Lower Cognitive Scores

A new preprint study presents the alarming finding that children born during the pandemic in the US show reduced verbal, motor, and overall cognitive performance compared to children born pre-pandemic. In the decade preceding the pandemic, the mean IQ score on standardized tests for children aged between three months and three years of age hovered around 100, but for children enrolled in this study born during the pandemic that number dropped to 78.

The study’s authors from Rhode Island Hospital and Brown University used a large ongoing longitudinal study of child neurodevelopment, known as the RESONANCE study at Brown University to examine general childhood cognitive scores in 2020 and 2021 against the preceding decade (2011-2019). Analyses of cognitive development were assessed using the Mullen Scales of Early Learning, a population normed and clinically administered tool that assesses function across the five primary domains of fine and gross motor control, visual reception, and expressive and respective language via direct observation and performance.

The study included 672 healthy children between 3 months to 3 years of age from the state of Rhode Island in the United States. The study population was controlled for age, gender, demographic, and socioeconomic indicators.

The first 1,000 days of a child’s life are an important and sensitive period of child development. Environmental factors, including maternal mental and physical health, nutrition, stimulation, and supportive caregiving can affect the developing fetal and infant brain. The researchers found that even in the absence of direct infection, the environmental changes associated with the pandemic are significantly and negatively affecting infant and child development. Males and children in lower socioeconomic families were the populations most affected. Given this data comes from a relatively affluent part of the US, I am deeply concerned about the neurodevelopment of already marginalized low socioeconomic populations both domestically and internationally.

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Originally published on Forbes on August 19, 2021   

© William A. Haseltine, PhD. All Rights Reserved.