Are macro-level features of the social context associated with neurodevelopment in children? Answering this question is challenging, because most neuroimaging studies are conducted in one location, making it impossible to link contextual variation with neural outcomes. Here, we use one of the first national, multi-site neuroimaging studies with substantial variability in sociopolitical contexts: the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development study (N=11,534; M=9.9 years). We measured stigma surrounding gender, race, and Latinx ethnicity using objective state-level indicators of social policies and prejudicial attitudes and two neural markers consistently linked with stress exposure: hippocampal volume and amygdala reactivity to threat. In a pre-registered analysis, we find that African-American and Latinx youth in higher stigma environments have smaller hippocampal volume, controlling for demographics and family socioeconomic status. Stigmatizing environments were unrelated to hippocampal volume in non-stigmatized youth, providing evidence of specificity. We demonstrate that contextual approaches may yield new insights into neurodevelopment.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience