What is it about?

An adverse psychosocial environment in childhood may harm the development of cognitive function such as memory, learning and information processing abilities. Until today, the associations for adulthood cognitive function have remained obscure. We wanted to examine whether psychosocial environment in childhood is associated with cognitive function in adulthood. In our study, socioeconomic and emotional environment, parental health behaviours, stressful events, self-regulation, and social adjustment were queried when the study participants were children and adolescents. After following the participants into adulthood, cognitive function was measured at the age of 34-49 years. Our results suggest that accumulation of unfavorable psychosocial factors in childhood may associate with poorer cognitive function in midlife. Specifically, poor self-regulatory behavior and social adjustment in childhood were found to associate with poorer learning ability and memory approximately 30 years later. This study is part of the ongoing national Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study coordinated by the Research Centre of Applied and Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Turku, Finland. Altogether, 3,596 participants have been followed up repeatedly for 31 years for their health, psychosocial, cardiovascular and lifestyle factors from childhood to adulthood.

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Why is it important?

Along with aging population, the prevalence of cognitive deficits is growing. Thus, revealing the role of various exposures beginning from childhood is important in order to bring tools for cognitive health promotion. The results from our study can be leveraged to target interventions towards those families with cumulative adverse psychosocial factors. Importantly, interventions that promote a better psychosocial environment in childhood might have carry over associations on adult cognitive function and thus also reflect into future generations via parenting attitudes.


Previous evidence on adverse psychosocial factors and cognitive outcomes comes mainly from either short-term or retrospective long-term studies focusing on single psychosocial factor or adversity. This study is one of the first prospective longitudinal studies focusing on the associations between multiple childhood psychosocial factors and adulthood cognitive function and suggesting that adverse psychosocial factors in childhood may contribute to adulthood cognitive health.

Amanda Nurmi
University of Turku

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The associations of childhood psychosocial factors with cognitive function in midlife—The young finns study., Neuropsychology, November 2022, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/neu0000877.
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