As economists and scientists continue to debate the impact of poverty and inequality in the world, recent research show that differences in family income and education are directly linked to brain size in developing children and teenagers.
Researchers have long known that children from families from a higher income class do better on several cognitive measures, such as IQ scores, reading, language and attention tests. But recent studies have found that children born into poor families have significantly smaller or less developed brains than those born into wealthy families.
Really?..... But what is the connection?
Low income class could contribute to slowing down brain growth due to family stress, higher exposure to environmental toxins, or insufficient nutrition, while higher income class families might be able to provide more “cognitive stimulation” to their children.
Dr. Brito and Dr. Noble’s research team in 2014 conducted MRI scans of 1,099 children and teenagers 3-20 years old and found that small increases in income leads to greater gains in cortical surface area involved in memory and executive function. At the lowest income levels, each incremental increase in income led to relatively greater increases in cortical surface area, but the impact of income leveled off at higher income levels. Their study showed that the difference between lower and higher incomes is dramatic: Children from families making less than $2,000 (< N 600,000) per month have cortical surface areas roughly 6% smaller than those making more than $12,500 (> N 3,8 million).
Of course, these findings does not mean that the effect is always the same or is irreversible. It just suggests that improving access to resources that enrich a child's developmental environment could change the trajectories of brain development for the better. Such findings should have important policy implications and provide new arguments for early anti-poverty interventions within and across countries around the world.
“Each year, 250 million children in low and middle income countries fail to reach their developmental potential which shows the growing need to understand the global impact of poverty on early brain and behavioural development.” - Prof John Spencer, School of Psychology, University of East Anglia.
Article Credit: Michael Adesanya