Developmental Science

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Volume 21 Issue 6 (November 2018), Pages

Community violence exposure in early adolescence: Longitudinal associations with hippocampal and amygdala volume and resting state connectivity


Community violence exposure is a common stressor, known to compromise youth cognitive and emotional development. In a diverse, urban sample of 22 adolescents, participants reported on community violence exposure (witnessing a beating or illegal drug use, hearing gun shots, or other forms of community violence) in early adolescence (average age 12.99), and underwent a neuroimaging scan 3–5 years later (average age 16.92). Community violence exposure in early adolescence predicted smaller manually traced left and right hippocampal and amygdala volumes in a model controlling for age, gender, and concurrent community violence exposure, measured in late adolescence. Community violence continued to predict hippocampus (but not amygdala) volumes after we also controlled for family aggression exposure in early adolescence. Community violence exposure was also associated with stronger resting state connectivity between the right hippocampus (using the manually traced structure as a seed region) and bilateral frontotemporal regions including the superior temporal gyrus and insula. These resting state connectivity results held after controlling for concurrent community violence exposure, SES, and family aggression. Although this is the first study focusing on community violence in conjunction with brain structure and function, these results dovetail with other research linking childhood adversity with smaller subcortical volumes in adolescence and adulthood, and with altered frontolimbic resting state connectivity. Our findings suggest that even community‐level exposure to neighborhood violence can have detectable neural correlates in adolescents.

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