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date: 22 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter will review what is known about the relation between living in conditions associated with poverty and the development of cardiac vagal tone in infants and young children. The effect of poverty-related stress during the prenatal period on vagal development in utero, in infancy, and young childhood will be discussed, with a specific focus on the effect of maternal psychological distress and substance use at this time. Additionally, this chapter will discuss how poverty-related stress may affect family functioning, due to such issues as maternal depression and marital conflict, leading to impaired parent-child interactions and subsequent deficits in vagal functioning in infants and children. Many unanswered questions about these associations remain, but initial findings provide compelling evidence that this physiological system may contribute to the long-term deleterious behavioral outcomes of children growing up in poverty.

Keywords: vagal tone, poverty-related stress, prenatal period, parasympathetic nervous system

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