New Report: Poverty dramatically affects children’s brains

Posted by on December 15, 2008

Poverty dramatically affects children’s brains, as in stroke, study finds

Certain brain functions in some low-income nine- and ten-year-olds show patterns equivalent to the damage from a stroke, according to a new study to be published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, USA TODAY reports. The study adds to a growing body of evidence that poverty afflicts children’s brains through malnutrition, stress, illiteracy, and toxic environments. Research shows that the neural systems of poor children develop differently from those of middle-class children, affecting language development and “executive function,” or the ability to plan, remember details, and pay attention in school. For the new study, researchers used an electroencephalograph to measure brain function of 26 children while they watched images flashing on a computer. The children pressed a button when a tilted triangle appeared. “It is a similar pattern to what’s seen in patients with strokes that have led to lesions in their prefrontal cortex,” which controls higher-order thinking and problem solving, says lead researcher Mark Kishiyama, a cognitive psychologist at the University of California-Berkeley. “It suggests that in these kids, prefrontal function is reduced or disrupted in some way.” Research also suggests that these effects are reversible through intensive intervention such as focused lessons and games that encourage children to think out loud or use executive function.

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