A new study has found that the brains of children who spend more than six months away from their mother or father mature at a slower rate.
The study suggests that children who live apart from their parents for long periods as they grow up are likely to have a lower IQ than those who live with mum and dad.
The study of children aged seven to 13 was conducted in China where millions of workers leave their children with relatives in pursuit of better jobs.
According to a Daily Mail report, the researchers found that the brains of youngsters left without direct parental care for more than six months mature at a slower rate, with a detrimental impact on intelligence.
They had larger volumes of grey matter, a major component of the central nervous system, in the brain.
As this may reflect insufficient pruning and maturity of the brain, the negative correlation between the grey matter volume and IQ scores suggests that growing up without parental care may delay brain development.
Study author Yuan Xiao, a PhD candidate at Sichuan University, said: ‘We wanted to study the brain structure in these left-behind children.
‘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.’
The findings will be presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.