Minds Under Siege: Cognitive Signatures of Poverty and Trauma in Refugee and Non-Refugee Adolescents

Child Dev. 2019 Nov;90(6):1856-1865. doi: 10.1111/cdev.13320. Epub 2019 Oct 24.


The impacts of war and displacement on executive function (EF)-what we might call the cognitive signatures of minds under siege-are little known. We surveyed a gender-balanced sample of 12- to 18-year-old Syrian refugees (n = 240) and Jordanian non-refugees (n = 210) living in Jordan. We examined the relative contributions of poverty, trauma exposure, posttraumatic stress, and insecurity to variance in inhibitory control and working memory. We observed associations between poverty and WM, suggesting that, even in populations exposed to substantial violence and fear, poverty is a specific pathway to WM deficit. We did not, however, find associations between EFs and exposures to trauma. Careful distinction between childhood adversities may illuminate which neurocognitive pathways matter for measures of cognitive function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences*
  • Child
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / etiology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / physiopathology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Exposure to Violence*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Jordan
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Poverty*
  • Psychological Trauma / complications
  • Psychological Trauma / physiopathology*
  • Refugees*
  • Syria