Differences spotted in the brains of affluent and less affluent children
Even though this week’s presidential debate was supposed to be on foreign policy, we warned you to be on the look out for vague promises to cut funding for social programs. Sure enough, discussion veered a few times in the direction of domestic spending, and both candidates pledged cuts without really explaining the impact on real families.
A new study hints at what is at stake for children from low-income families. The study, presented this week, shows some correlations between how children’s brains develop and how affluent their families are. Comparing brain images taken of children from several different income levels, researchers found that a region of the brain closely related to learning and memory tended to be larger in children from high income families. More affluent children also had smaller amygdala regions, which are associated with how the brain processes stress, than children of low-income families.
The lead author of the study is unequivocal: Merely being poor does not mean one’s children will have poor brain development. But it stands to reason that many low-income families have difficultly providing early experiences for their children that are as stimulating as what affluent children get. Many low-income families have a hard time getting their children high-quality child care and have a more stressful home life. In the end, the children often suffer.
What does this say about public policy? That poverty matters even more than we think. Deprivation, even short bouts of it, can set a child back emotionally and, yes, even in their cognitive development. The programs that many policymakers are now thinking of cutting are designed to prevent poverty from setting children back. Without them, the short term economic struggles our country has now could have wide-ranging and long-term effects on the next generation.
As the author of the study herself recommends, “At a minimum, we want to encourage policies that would promote healthy child development by optimizing exposure to cognitive stimulation and emotional warmth. One possibility is that by promoting programs that would reduce poverty and increase parents’ educational opportunities, we might in turn promote childhood development.”
What can you do about it right now? Sign our pledge to make children a priority in the 2012 election! Candidates need to know that our number one voting issue is our most important