Working for the future: parentally deprived Nigerian Children have enhanced working memory ability.
BACKGROUND: The dominant view based on the deficit model of developmental psychopathology is that early adverse rearing impairs cognition. In contrast, an emerging evolutionary-developmental model argues that individuals exposed to early-life stress may have improved cognitive abilities that are adapted to harsh environments. We set out to test this hypothesis by examining cognitive functions in parentally deprived children in Nigeria. METHODS: Cognitive performance was compared between 53 deprived children who currently live in institutional homes and foster families and 51 nondeprived control participants. We used a multifaceted neurocognitive test battery for the assessment of inhibition, set-shifting and working memory. RESULTS: Results showed that the deprived and nondeprived group did not significantly differ in their performance on set-shifting and inhibition tasks. Conversely, the deprived group performed significantly better than the nondeprived group in the working memory task. DISCUSSION: We interpret the enhanced working memory ability of the deprived group as a correlate of its ecological relevance. In Nigeria, underprivileged children may need to rely to a larger extent on working memory abilities to attain success through academic work. This study provides further evidence that exposure to early adversity does not necessarily impair cognitive functions but can even enhance it under some conditions and in some domains.