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Psychol Med. 2016 Feb;46(3):599-610. doi: 10.1017/S0033291715002111. Epub 2015 Oct 23.

Characterizing social environment's association with neurocognition using census and crime data linked to the Philadelphia Neurodevelopmental Cohort.

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Department of Psychiatry,Perelman School of Medicine,University of Pennsylvania,Philadelphia, PA,USA.
Department of Criminal Justice,Pennsylvania State University,Abington College,Abington, PA,USA.



The contribution of 'environment' has been investigated across diverse and multiple domains related to health. However, in the context of large-scale genomic studies the focus has been on obtaining individual-level endophenotypes with environment left for future decomposition. Geo-social research has indicated that environment-level variables can be reduced, and these composites can then be used with other variables as intuitive, precise representations of environment in research.


Using a large community sample (N = 9498) from the Philadelphia area, participant addresses were linked to 2010 census and crime data. These were then factor analyzed (exploratory factor analysis; EFA) to arrive at social and criminal dimensions of participants' environments. These were used to calculate environment-level scores, which were merged with individual-level variables. We estimated an exploratory multilevel structural equation model (MSEM) exploring associations among environment- and individual-level variables in diverse communities.


The EFAs revealed that census data was best represented by two factors, one socioeconomic status and one household/language. Crime data was best represented by a single crime factor. The MSEM variables had good fit (e.g. comparative fit index = 0.98), and revealed that environment had the largest association with neurocognitive performance (β = 0.41, p < 0.0005), followed by parent education (β = 0.23, p < 0.0005).


Environment-level variables can be combined to create factor scores or composites for use in larger statistical models. Our results are consistent with literature indicating that individual-level socio-demographic characteristics (e.g. race and gender) and aspects of familial social capital (e.g. parental education) have statistical relationships with neurocognitive performance.


Census; Philadelphia Neurodevelopmental Cohort; factor analysis; geo-coding; neurocognition; socioeconomic status

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