Good communication with parents promotes in a child the development of a brain network involved in the processing of rewards and other stimuli that, in turn, protects against the over-consumption of food, alcohol and drugs, says a study.
The findings of the 14-year study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, suggest that robust parent-child communication has an impact on health behaviour in adulthood.
“These findings highlight the value of prevention and intervention efforts targeting parenting skills in childhood as a means to foster long-term, adaptive neurocognitive development,” said study co-author Allen Barton from the University of Georgia in the US.
In 2001, the research team began a longitudinal study involving rural US families with a child 11 years of age.
Between the ages of 11 and 13 years, participants reported on interactions with their parents, including the frequency of discussions and arguing.
When the participants reached 25 years of age, a sub-sample of nearly 100 participants was recruited from the larger study to take part in a neuroimaging session that measured brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Specifically, the researchers used fMRI to study a network of brain connections called the anterior salience network (ASN). The participants also answered questions about harmful alcohol use and emotional eating at age 25.
Greater parent-child communication in early adolescence predicted greater connectivity of the ASN at age 25, the researcher said.
Greater ASN connectivity was, in turn, associated with lower harmful alcohol use and emotional eating at age 25, they added.