Researchers in China studied how the migration of parents in pursuit of better jobs has affected the millions of children who have been left in the care of relatives for a period of more than six months without direct parental care from their biological parents.

"Previous studies support the hypothesis that parental care can directly affect brain development in offspring. However, most prior work is with rather severe social deprivation, such as orphans. We looked at children who were left behind with relatives when the parents left to seek employment far from home," said Yuan Xiao from the West China Hospital of Sichuan University in China.

For the study, MRI exams from 38 left-behind girls and boys (ages 7 to 13) were compared to MRI exams from a control group of 30 girls and boys (ages 7 to 14) living with their parents.

The researchers then compared the gray matter volume between the two groups and measured the intelligence quotient (IQ) of each participant to assess cognitive function.

They found larger gray matter volumes in multiple brain regions, especially in emotional brain circuitry, in the left-behind children compared to children living with their parents.

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