The Impact of Acute Violence and Other Environmental Stressors on Cognitive Functioning and School Performance

How do incidents of extreme violence or other stressors in adolescents’ neighborhoods affect their cognitive functioning and school performance?

Researchers examining the impact of neighborhoods on adolescents’ cognitive and academic trajectories have struggled to identify what dimensions of community disadvantage are particularly salient for adolescents. Also, persistent methodological problems have confused any policy-relevant conclusions that can be drawn from the literature. Sharkey’s study aims to identify the effect of extreme acts of violence—in the form of local homicides—in adolescents’ neighborhoods on short-term cognitive functioning, school attendance, and performance on standardized assessments. He will merge data from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (PHDCN), which includes scores on two assessments of verbal and reading ability given to youth from age 6 through age 17, with data on the location and date of every homicide reported by the Chicago Police Department from 1994 to 2002. He will also analyze homicide data alongside administrative records on school attendance and standardized test performance. Sharkey also proposes to develop a new method of data collection that combines this cognitive/academic data with newspaper archives that have been coded based on a wide array of environmental stressors that might impact adolescents’ daily functioning, including health scares, upsurges in violence, transit or teachers’ strikes, severe weather, economic shocks, or even major cultural or sports events.

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