Does growing up poor harm brain development? (The Economist):
“Plenty of evidence suggests that growing up poor, living through these kinds of scrapes, has a detrimental impact on child development. Children from rich families tend to have better language and memory skills than those from poor families. More affluent children usually perform better in school, and are less likely to end up in jail. Growing up poor risks the development of a smaller cerebral cortex. But these are associations between poverty and development, not evidence that poverty causes these bad outcomes, says Kimberly Noble, a neuroscientist at Columbia University in New York. She is part of a team of researchers running a three-year experiment which will, for the first time, search for causal links between parental income level and a child’s early development.
The team will start recruiting the first of 1,000 low-income mothers next week. They will be invited to join the study, which is called Baby’s First Years, shortly after giving birth at one of ten hospitals in four cities across the United States…Of that 1,000, roughly half will be randomly selected to receive an unconditional $333 a month, while the others will form a control group that will receive $20. The money, which is completely unconditional, will be loaded onto a pre-paid debit card every month for 40 months, on the date of the child’s birthday. The hypothesis is that this steady stream of payments will make a positive difference in the cognitive and emotional development of the children whose mothers receive it…The interviews will also measure mothers’ stress, mental health and employment patterns.”
Recent related study:
Socioeconomic Status, Amygdala Volume, and Internalizing Symptoms in Children and Adolescents (Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology)
- Abstract: The associations among socioeconomic disadvantage, amygdala volume, and internalizing symptoms in children and adolescents are unclear and understudied in the extant literature. In this study, we examined associations between socioeconomic status (SES) and amygdala volume by age across childhood and adolescence to test whether socioeconomic disadvantage would be associated with larger amygdala volume at younger ages but with smaller amygdala volume at older ages. We then examined whether SES and amygdala volume were associated with children’s levels of anxiety and depression. Participants were 3- to 21-year-olds from the Pediatric Imaging, Neurocognition, and Genetics study (N = 1,196), which included structural magnetic resonance imaging. A subsample (n = 327; 7–21 years of age) completed self-report measures of anxiety and depression. Lower family income and parental education were significantly associated with smaller amygdala volume in adolescence (13–21 years) but not significantly associated with amygdala volume at younger ages (3–12 years). Lower parental education, but not family income, was significantly associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression, even after accounting for family history of anxiety/depression. Smaller amygdala volume was significantly associated with higher levels of depression, even after accounting for parental education and family history of anxiety/depression. These findings suggest that associations between SES and amygdala structure may vary by age. In addition, smaller amygdala volume may be linked with an increased risk for depression in children and adolescents.
The new study in context:
- The $4,000 Question: Kim Noble will test whether giving cash supplements to new moms can change children’s development and brain function
- Study: Structural brain differences due to childhood poverty may account for 20% of the academic achievement gap
- The Neurobiology of Stress: the Human Brain and How It Responds to Stress
- Six tips to build resilience and prevent brain-damaging stress