Effects of the physical and social environment on youth cognitive performance


Individual differences in children’s cognitive abilities impact life and health outcomes. What factors influence these individual differences during development? Here we test whether children’s environments predict cognitive performance, independent of well- characterized socioeconomic effects. We analyzed data from 9002 9–10-year-olds from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study, an ongoing longitudinal study with community samples across the U.S.A. Using youth- and caregiver-report questionnaires and national database registries (e.g., neighborhood crime, walkability), we defined principal components summarizing children’s home, school, neighborhood, and cultural environments. In two independent samples (ns = 3475, 5527), environmental components explained unique variance in children’s general cognitive ability, executive functioning, and learning/memory abilities. Furthermore, increased neighborhood enrichment was associated with a decreased relationship between sociodemographics and general cognitive abilities. Thus, the environment explains unique variance in cognitive performance in development and should be considered alongside sociodemographic factors to understand brain functioning and behavior.