YPSN_2The following is a summary of a University of Oregon study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America that describes outcomes from ‘two generation programming’.

After only 8 weeks, children in families that received the Parents Making Connections– Highlighting Attention program outdistanced children in the two other groups in the study in the areas of language, cognition and behavior. In the same time frame, this program is also credited with improving parents’ caregiving behaviors and reducing parental stress.

Find the full paper here.

Why two generations?

The Stress Connection…

“Decades of research indicate that children from lower socioeconomic status backgrounds are more likely to grow up in homes that are more stressful and less cognitively stimulating than their higher socioeconomic peers. Such disparities have been shown to account for up to half of the academic disparity associated with socioeconomic status” (p. 12138).

“The home environment contains multiple pathways that may impact children’s attention development, perhaps most importantly, stress and parent-child interaction patterns” (p. 12138).

“Parent training can reduce stress and cortisol levels in children” (p. 12138).

“Acute and chronic stress adversely affect brain development, particularly the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, which are central to many aspects of attention, working memory, and executive function.” (p. 12138).

“Stress pathways have been identified as a major risk factor for children growing up in lower socioeconomic status or adverse environments and the effects of chronic stress on the structure and function of brain areas such as the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex are well-documented” (p. 12141).

The Study

“The present study sought to examine whether an 8-week family-based training program could improve the neural systems meditating selective attention in in lower socioeconomic status preschool children” (p. 12140).

“Developmental cognitive neuroscience now permits the identification of candidate neurobiological targets for training programs. One such neurobiological target is selective attention, a foundational developmental skill important for academic outcomes, sensitive to environmental differences associated with socioeconomic status, and capable of considerable neuroplasticity” (p. 12138).

“Considerable evidence documents the central role of selective attention in all aspects of learning and memory, and school readiness in particular” (p. 12138).

Implications for Practice

This research “supports the design of programs that efficiently build on evidence from basic research on neuroplasticity and on evidence-based practices that can be delivered in relatively short time frames” (p. 12140).

“Classroom-based models with little involvement of parents are less likely to realize large gains for young children” (p. 12141).

“The cost of [the two generation program] is estimated to be only approximately $800 per child” (p. 12142).

In an earlier summary of a paper How Early Experiences Shape Executive Function we learned that executive function effectively inoculates against stress & trauma. And likewise, Toxic Stress inhibits the development of executive function.  That paper, like this one, suggested that intervention into this cycle is effective.


Neville H JStevens CPakulak EBell T EFanning JKlein S, and Isbell E. Family-based training program improves brain function, cognition, and behavior in lower socioeconomic status preschoolers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2013 110 (29) 1213812143; doi:10.1073/pnas.1304437110

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