Periodic Reporting for period 3 - COMSTAR (The effects of early-life adversity on cognition: A comparative approach.)
Reporting period: 2018-10-01 to 2020-03-31
so that they experience different early histories. To measure the adult outcomes in each cognitive domain, we are developing novel behavioural paradigms with directly analogous versions in the two species. We are also examining whether telomere
length, a cellular measure of cumulative stress exposure, statistically mediates the relationships between early-life adversity and the cognitive outcomes, thus testing recent theoretical models based on psychological adaptation to ones own physical state. As well as describing associations between early-life adversity and adult outcomes, we will focus on adaptive questions: do the observed effects of early-life adversity simply represent pathology, or can they be considered as adaptive responses? Thus, we will move beyond cataloguing the cognitive consequences of early-life
adversity, and begin to explain them.
These issues are important for society, as it is clear that some of the variation in adult health, behaviour and well-being has its origins in childhood experience. It is therefore an important priority to understand how and why childhood experience shapes adult decision-making. We aim to go beyond simply labelling the decision-making of people who have suffered early adversity as 'faulty', and instead try to understand the specific ways that individuals shift their priorities in response to the early lives they have had. This could ultimately inform between interventions and institutions for young people. By focusing on a non-human species where we have experimental control of early experience, we hope to be able to move beyond the mass of correlations that tends to exist in human life-course data.
In parallel to this bird work, we are performing a series of studies on human volunteers where we relate aspects of their childhood (retrosepctively recalled) to their performance on a suite of cognitive tasks. In many cases we are specially developing tasks and measures inspired by what we have been able to do with the birds. We have been exploring the hypothesis that insecurity and stress - both in childhood but also in adulthood - are related to food motivation, eating behaviour and obesity. We have established such connections from the previous literature, and we are currently conducting original studies of our own.