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Contributions of Neuroscience to the Study of Socioeconomic Health Disparities

Gianaros, Peter J. PhD; Hackman, Daniel

doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e3182a5f9c1
Editorial Comment

Socioeconomic disadvantage confers risk for ill health. Historically, the pathways by which socioeconomic disadvantage may affect health have been viewed from epidemiological perspectives emphasizing environmental, behavioral, and biopsychosocial risk factors. Such perspectives, however, have yet to integrate findings from emerging neuroscience studies demonstrating that indicators of socioeconomic disadvantage relate to patterns of brain morphology and functionality that have been associated with aspects of mental, physical, and cognitive health over the lifecourse. This commentary considers findings from one such study appearing in the current issue of Psychosomatic Medicine. It reports that an area-level indicator of socioeconomic disadvantage relates to cortical morphology in brain regions important for language, executive control, and other cognitive and behavioral functions—possibly via a systemic inflammatory pathway. These findings are put into context by discussing broader questions and challenges that need to be addressed in order for neuroscience approaches to a) become better integrated with existing epidemiological perspectives and b) more fully advance our understanding of the pathways by which socioeconomic disadvantage becomes embodied by the brain in relation to health.

From the Departments of Psychology (P.J.G.) and Psychiatry (D.H.), University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Peter Gianaros, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Pittsburgh, Room 506 Old Engineering Hall, 3943 O’Hara Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. E-mail:

Received for publication July 17, 2013; revision received July 17, 2013.

Copyright © 2013 by American Psychosomatic Society
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