Developmental Science

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Volume 22 Issue 1 (January 2019), Pages

School climate is associated with cortical thickness and executive function in children and adolescents

Abstract A positive school climate has been found to support mental and physical health, academic achievement and social adjustment among youth. However, links between school climate and brain structure have not been investigated to date. In this study, we investigated whether school climate was associated with executive function (EF) and brain structure (cortical thickness and surface area) in children and adolescents. We further examined whether these links varied as a function of socioeconomic background. Participants who ranged from 9 to 18 years of age (N = 108) completed EF tasks and a high‐resolution, 3‐Tesla, T1‐weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. Overall school climate, academic support, and family socioeconomic background were assessed using questionnaires. Higher academic support was associated with greater EF task performance and increased global cortical thickness. Additionally, academic support moderated the association between family income and EF, such that children from lower income families performed similarly to their more advantaged peers on EF tasks in the context of positive academic support. This work is the first to link school climate to brain structure and contributes to the growing body of evidence suggesting that academic support may be an important protective factor in the context of socioeconomic disadvantage.

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