How Living in Vulnerable Conditions Undermines Cognitive Development: Evidence from the Pediatric Population of Guatemala (Open Access)

  • Authors:
    Joaquín Alejandro Ibáñez-Alfonso, Rosalba Company Córdoba, Claudia García de la Cadena, Antonio Sianes, Ian Craig Simpson
  • Publication:
  • Year: 2021


Low-socioeconomic backgrounds represent a risk factor for children’s cognitive development and well-being. Evidence from many studies highlights that cognitive processes may be adversely affected by vulnerable contexts. The aim of this study was to determine if living in vulnerable conditions affects childhood cognitive development. To achieve this, we assessed the performance of a sample of 347 Guatemalan children and adolescents aged from 6 to 17 years (M = 10.8, SD = 3) in a series of 10 neuropsychological tasks recently standardized for the pediatric population of this country. Two-fifths of the sample (41.5%) could be considered to have vulnerable backgrounds, coming from families with low-socioeconomic status or having had a high exposure to violence. As expected, results showed lower scores in language and attention for the vulnerable group. However, contrary to expectations, consistent systematic differences were not found in the executive function tasks. Vulnerable children obtained lower scores in cognitive flexibility compared to the non-vulnerable group, but higher scores in inhibition and problem-solving tasks. These results suggest the importance of developing pediatric standards of cognitive performance that take environmental vulnerable conditions into consideration. These findings, one of the first obtained in the Guatemalan population, also provide relevant information for specific educational interventions and public health policies which will enhance vulnerable children and adolescent cognitive development.

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