The effect of long term parent absence on children’s brain development as occurs when a parent is deployed for military service, or parents are absent and children are in the care of relatives for extended periods may be detrimental.
Researchers found that large gray matter developed in the brains of children who were not cared for by parents for extended times, and that brain development may be delayed.
“We wanted to study the brain structure in these left-behind children,” said study author Yuan Xiao, Ph.D. candidate at the Huaxi MR Research Center and the Department of Radiology at West China Hospital of Sichuan University in Chengdu, Sichuan, China. “Previous studies support the hypothesis that parental care can directly affect brain development in offspring. However, most prior work is with rather severe social deprivation, such as orphans. We looked at children who were left behind with relatives when the parents left to seek employment far from home.”
Researchers compared children in China who grew up around their parents with those who migrated in pursuit of better jobs, leaving the children with relatives for extended periods. The MRIs of 38 left-behind girls and boys were compared with the 30 children living with their parents. Researchers compared the volume of gray matter and measured each participant’s IQ to assess their cognitive functioning.
The IQ scores were not significantly different between the two groups, but there was larger gray matter volume in brain regions that control emotions in the left behind children.