Stunting in infancy is associated with atypical activation of working memory and attention networks

Sobanawartiny Wijeakumar, Samuel H. Forbes, Vincent A. Magnotta, Sean Deoni, Kiara Jackson, Vinay P. Singh, Madhuri Tiwari, Aarti Kumar, John P. Spencer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Stunting is associated with poor long-term cognitive, academic, and economic outcomes, yet the mechanisms through which stunting impacts cognition in early development remain unknown. In a first-ever neuroimaging study conducted in infants from rural India, we demonstrate that stunting impacts a critical, early-developing cognitive system – visual working memory (VWM). Stunted infants showed poor VWM performance and were easily distractible. Poor performance was associated with reduced engagement of the left anterior intraparietal sulcus (laIPS), a region involved in VWM maintenance, and greater suppression in the right temporo-parietal junction, a region involved in attentional shifting. When assessed one year later, stunted infants had lower problem-solving scores, while normal height infants with greater laIPS activation showed higher problem-solving scores. Finally, short-for-age infants with poor physical growth indices but good VWM performance showed more positive outcomes suggesting that intervention efforts should focus on improving working memory and reducing distractibility in infancy.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNature Human Behaviour
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2 Jul 2023

Cite this