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COVID-19 mitigation policies like masks, social distancing, lockdowns, and school closures may have harmed the cognitive development of infants: Verbal, non-verbal, and early learning scores dropped among babies born during the pandemic, according to a new study from Brown University.
"We find that children born during the pandemic have significantly reduced verbal, motor, and overall cognitive performance compared to children born pre-pandemic," wrote the study's authors. "Results highlight that even in the absence of direct SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 illness, the environmental changes associated with the COVID-19 pandemic is significantly and negatively affecting infant and child development."
Outcomes were worse for males than females, and children in lower socioeconomic households were worst off.
The study has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it has several limitations. Researchers gathered data on 118 children born during the pandemic and compared their cognitive outcomes to a dataset that included 605 kids who were between the ages of 3 months and 3 years in the 2011 to 2020 period. While the pandemic may feel as if it has gone on forever, it's actually only been 20 months, which is not a lot of time for a newborn to develop sufficiently testable skills. Sean Deoni, an associate professor at Brown and one of the study's authors, cautioned that the findings should not be generalized to all kids.
"I think only time will tell if we see prolonged effects, or if this is transient and they recover or normalize as they get older; and if it impacts more 'mature' skills like executive functions and social skills," he tells Reason.
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