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.
|Journal||Nature Human Behaviour|
|Publication status||Accepted/In press - 2 Jul 2023|