Understanding Disparities in Cognitive Development Through Context-Biology Interactions

Awarded Scholars:
Gregory E. Miller, Northwestern University
Adriana Weisleder, Northwestern University
Project Date:
Dec 2019
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Social, Political, and Economic Inequality


Children’s life outcomes differ markedly as a function of their family’s socioeconomic conditions. Some pronounced and intractable disparities are in the development of human capital. By the early years of childhood, disparities in language acquisition, school readiness, and executive functions are evident. Yet, we know relatively little about their origins, in part because social and biological scientists investigating them have worked in isolation. Psychologists Gregory Miller and Adriana Weisleder will test hypotheses about context-biology transactions, leveraging an ongoing National Institute of Health (NIH)-funded study of perinatal health disparities. They will examine the ways in which the gestational inflammatory milieu and postnatal caregiving environment interact to affect cognitive development, and the extent to which these interactions are associated with socioeconomic variations in cognitive development. The study follows 700 women from Cook County—which includes most of Chicago and its suburbs—through pregnancy. The NIH study is focused on pregnancy outcomes and does not include funds to support assessments of children or of the post-natal caregiving environment. RSF/JPB Foundation funds will be used to add measures of the caregiving environment (at ages 1 and 2) and cognitive development (at ages 1 and 2). The PIs will assess approximately 250 children at 12 months and 125 at 24 months. These assessments will then be used to support a larger grant request to NIH to assess the remainder of the sample.



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