A difficult childhood can put people at a lasting disadvantage with their peers on a material and cognitive level. But can there actually be some benefits from a challenging upbringing? A study coauthored by Texas A&M University Mays Business School Professor of Marketing Chiraag Mittal suggests that individuals reared in harsh or unpredictable environments may actually be better decision-makers in the face of uncertainty.

“We found that adverse childhoods are not universally bad for mental functioning,” Mittal said. “Rather, growing up in adverse, unpredictable environments leads to better performance on certain cognitive tasks (e.g. shifting).”

Mittal explained that prior research in this subject indicated that adversity usually has no beneficial outcomes. “This adds to the growing evidence suggesting that psychological functioning of adults reared in more unpredictable early life environments may be better conceptualized as adapted rather than impaired.”

Mittal said he believes the study’s findings could be useful to policy researchers interested in outcomes such as education attainment and general well-being among people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

At Mays Business School, Mittal’s research focuses on understanding consumer behavior and decision making by integrating insights from psychology and behavioral ecology. He graduated with a Ph.D. in Business Administration from University of Minnesota.