Associations between maternal stress and infant resting brain activity among families residing in poverty in the U.S.

Sonya V. Troller-Renfree, Jessica F. Sperber, Emma R. Hart, Molly A. Costanzo, Lisa A. Gennetian, Jerrold S. Meyer, Nathan A. Fox, Kimberly G. Noble

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Growing evidence suggests that maternal experiences of stress shape children's functional brain activity in the first years of life. Individuals living in poverty are more likely to experience stress from a variety of sources. However, it is unclear how stress is related to resting brain activity among children born into poverty. The present study examines whether infants born into households experiencing poverty show differences in brain activity associated with maternal reports of experiencing stress. The analytic sample comprised 247 mother-infant dyads who completed maternal questionnaires characterizing stress, and for whom recordings of infant resting brain activity were obtained at 1 year of age (M=12.93 months, SD=1.66; 50% female). Mothers (40% Black, non-Hispanic, 40% Hispanic, 12% White, non-Hispanic) who reported higher stress had infants who showed more resting brain activity in the lower end of the frequency spectrum (relative theta power) and less resting brain activity in the middle range of the frequency spectrum (relative alpha power). While statistically detectable at the whole-brain level, follow-up exploratory analyses revealed that these effects were most apparent in electrodes over frontal and parietal regions of the brain. These findings held after adjusting for a variety of potentially confounding variables. Altogether, the present study suggests that, among families experiencing low economic resources, maternal reports of stress are associated with differences in patterns of infant resting brain activity during the first year of life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108683
JournalBiological Psychology
StatePublished - Nov 2023


  • Alpha
  • Beta
  • EEG
  • Gamma
  • Maternal stress
  • Poverty
  • Resting brain activity
  • SES
  • Theta

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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