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Industrial and agricultural pollution

With these caveats in mind, the evidence to date documents adverse impacts of individual environmental risk factors, particularly environmental toxins and pollutants, on children’s cognitive development. However, the impacts on socioemotional functioning are less certain. In addition, the documented evidence for impacts of noise, crowding and chaos on the cognitive and socioemotional development of children growing up in the global South is tentative at best. And, across the globe, the impacts of individual aspects of the physical environment of housing, schools and neighborhoods are unclear, primarily because multiple factors tend to be correlated. This is especially true for low-income families, underfunded schools and poor neighborhoods in both the global North and South, where poverty is frequently associated with multiple environmental risks (Evans, 2004Ferguson et al., 2009). It is also important to recognize that when cumulative, environmental insults have been studied, they typically reveal worse outcomes than singular environmental risks (De Fur et al., 2007Evans, Li & Whipple, in press). Furthermore, for low-income children, the confluence of deteriorating physical conditions along with inadequate psychosocial conditions is a primary, underlying pathway that helps account for the ill effects of poverty on child development (Evans & Kim, 2013).

In order to better understand the effects of multiple environmental risk factors on children’s cognitive and socioemotional development, a holistic, multidisciplinary and multilevel approach that encompasses the complex interactions between biological, physical, and psychosocial factors impacting children’s developmental outcomes is needed. Such an understanding will allow us to more effectively intervene in children’s actual lived environments. In other work (Ferguson & Lee, 2013), we have proposed a bioecocultural framework that integrates key components of Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological model (Bronfenbrenner & Evans, 2000Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998) with Nsamenang and colleagues’ ecocultural approach (e.g., Nsamenang, 1992Nsamenang & Dawes, 1998), and Li’s (2003) cross-level dynamic biocultural coconstructivist paradigm (see also Boivin & Giordani, 2009). We thus focus here on outlining key steps involved in utilizing this framework to better understand and address the impacts of the physical environment on the cognitive and socioemotional development of children living in multiple contexts.