Continuous cognitive stimulation during a person’s childhood is essential in normal brain development. However, recent studies suggest that income levels are also essential in how a child’s brain develops. Researchers from Duke University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have concluded that children living in poverty may experience long-lasting cognitive impairment as well as certain differences in brain development.
The idea isn’t novel, especially since previous literature had already highlighted a connection between poor academic results and poverty. Recently, however, more and more studies are examining the way in which poverty negatively influences brain development.
Over 400 children were included in the study. The team of researchers conducted MRI imaging and discovered that the frontal lobes of children coming from poorer homes contained significantly less gray matter than the brains of children born in affluent families. The same applied for the children’s hippocampus and temporal lobe.
These structures are important in the way that our brains process emotional regulation, long-term memory as well as information processing.
This achievement gap is evident especially among school children: while poor children generally achieve poor results, middle-class and upper-class children tend to do better. This discrepancy doesn’t change when the children move to poorer neighborhoods.
The MRI images were examined in correlation with standardized test scores in order to better understand the cognitive capabilities of the participants. In order to account for confounding factors, the team of researchers excluded those children from the study who had presented other risk factors for poor brain development, such as low birth weight.
According to study authors, the team attempted to conduct an accurate comparison between the healthiest of US children, so that the only difference between them involved income.
“Accounting for 20 or 25 per cent of something complex like how well kids are doing in achievement tests is huge,” Prof. Pollak, lead author said, addressing the brain difference as well as the achievement difference between the children included in the study.
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