Public Release: 

Childhood communication enhances brain development, protecting against harmful behaviors

A new study in Biological Psychiatry investigates the influence of parent-child communication on the development of harmful alcohol use and emotional eating in adulthood

Elsevier

Philadelphia, May 3, 2018 Children with greater parent communication in early adolescence have less harmful alcohol use and emotional eating in young adulthood, according to a new study in Biological Psychiatry.

The 14-year study, which followed participants from 11 to 25 years old, identified that the extent of communication between parents and children promotes the development of a brain network involved in the processing of rewards and other stimuli that, in turn, protects against the overconsumption of food, alcohol and drugs. In this way, robust parent-child communication has an impact on health behaviors in adulthood.

"It might mean that social interactions actually influence the wiring patterns of the brain in the teenage years," said John Krystal, MD, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. "It points to an important potential role of family interactions in brain development and the emergence of maladaptive behaviors in adulthood," he added.

The study, led by Christopher Holmes, PhD and colleagues from the University of Georgia's Center for Family Research, focused on rural African Americans, an understudied population that may be disproportionately at risk for these harmful health behaviors in young adulthood. In 2001, the research team began a longitudinal study involving rural African American families with a child 11 years of age. Between the ages of 11 and 13 years, participants reported on interactions with their parents, including the frequency of discussions and arguing.

When the participants reached 25 years of age, a subsample of 91 participants was recruited from the larger study to take part in a neuroimaging session that measured brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Specifically, the researchers used fMRI to study a network of brain connections called the anterior salience network (ASN). The participants also answered questions about harmful alcohol use and emotional eating at age 25.

Greater parent-child communication in early adolescence predicted greater connectivity of the ASN at age 25, supporting the idea that high-quality parenting is important for long-term brain development. Greater ASN connectivity was, in turn, associated with lower harmful alcohol use and emotional eating at age 25. The findings point to the ASN as a brain mechanism for how parenting in childhood affects health behaviors in early adulthood.

"These findings highlight the value of prevention and intervention efforts targeting parenting skills in childhood as a means to foster long-term, adaptive neurocognitive development," said Allen Barton, PhD, corresponding author of the study.

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Notes for editors
The article is "Parenting and Salience Network Connectivity among African Americans: A Protective Pathway for Health-Risk Behaviors," by Christopher J. Holmes, Allen W. Barton, James MacKillop, Adriana Galván, Max M. Owens, Michael J. McCormick, Tianyi Yu, Steven R.H. Beach, Gene H. Brody, and Lawrence H. Sweet (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2018.03.003). It appears in Biological Psychiatry, published by Elsevier.

Copies of this paper are available to credentialed journalists upon request; please contact Rhiannon Bugno at Biol.Psych@UTSouthwestern.edu">Biol.Psych@UTSouthwestern.edu or +1 214 648 0880. Journalists wishing to interview the authors may contact Allen Barton at awbarton@uga.edu">awbarton@uga.edu or +1 706 425 2977.

The authors' affiliations and disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available in the article.

John H. Krystal, MD, is Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine, Chief of Psychiatry at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and a research psychiatrist at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System. His disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available here.

About Biological Psychiatry
Biological Psychiatry is the official journal of the Society of Biological Psychiatry, whose purpose is to promote excellence in scientific research and education in fields that investigate the nature, causes, mechanisms and treatments of disorders of thought, emotion, or behavior. In accord with this mission, this peer-reviewed, rapid-publication, international journal publishes both basic and clinical contributions from all disciplines and research areas relevant to the pathophysiology and treatment of major psychiatric disorders.

The journal publishes novel results of original research which represent an important new lead or significant impact on the field, particularly those addressing genetic and environmental risk factors, neural circuitry and neurochemistry, and important new therapeutic approaches. Reviews and commentaries that focus on topics of current research and interest are also encouraged.

Biological Psychiatry is one of the most selective and highly cited journals in the field of psychiatric neuroscience. It is ranked 6th out of 142 Psychiatry titles and 10th out of 258 Neurosciences titles in the Journal Citations Reports® published by Thomson Reuters. The 2016 Impact Factor score for Biological Psychiatry is 11.412. http://www.sobp.org/journal

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Media contact
Rhiannon Bugno
Editorial Office, Biological Psychiatry
+1 214 648 0880
Biol.Psych@UTSouthwestern.edu">Biol.Psych@UTSouthwestern.edu

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