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Stunting in infancy is associated with atypical activation of working memory and attention networks

Wijeakumar, Sobanawartiny; Forbes, Samuel H.; Magnotta, Vincent A.; Deoni, Sean; Jackson, Kiara; Singh, Vinay P.; Tiwari, Madhuri; Kumar, Aarti; Spencer, John P.

Stunting in infancy is associated with atypical activation of working memory and attention networks Thumbnail


Sobanawartiny Wijeakumar

Vincent A. Magnotta

Sean Deoni

Kiara Jackson

Vinay P. Singh

Madhuri Tiwari

Aarti Kumar

John P. Spencer


Stunting is associated with poor long-term cognitive, academic and economic outcomes, yet the mechanisms through which stunting impacts cognition in early development remain unknown. In a first-ever neuroimaging study conducted on infants from rural India, we demonstrate that stunting impacts a critical, early-developing cognitive system—visual working memory. Stunted infants showed poor visual working memory performance and were easily distractible. Poor performance was associated with reduced engagement of the left anterior intraparietal sulcus, a region involved in visual working memory maintenance and greater suppression in the right temporoparietal junction, a region involved in attentional shifting. When assessed one year later, stunted infants had lower problem-solving scores, while infants of normal height with greater left anterior intraparietal sulcus activation showed higher problem-solving scores. Finally, short-for-age infants with poor physical growth indices but good visual working memory performance showed more positive outcomes suggesting that intervention efforts should focus on improving working memory and reducing distractibility in infancy.


Wijeakumar, S., Forbes, S. H., Magnotta, V. A., Deoni, S., Jackson, K., Singh, V. P., …Spencer, J. P. (2023). Stunting in infancy is associated with atypical activation of working memory and attention networks. Nature Human Behaviour,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 13, 2023
Online Publication Date Oct 26, 2023
Publication Date 2023
Deposit Date Nov 6, 2023
Publicly Available Date Nov 6, 2023
Journal Nature Human Behaviour
Publisher Nature Research
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
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Published Journal Article (Advance Online Version) (4.9 Mb)


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