Poorer Children Develop ‘Smaller Brains’

Poorer Children Develop ‘Smaller Brains’Poorer Children Develop ‘Smaller Brains’

A study of MRI scans of the brains of healthy children has revealed that poverty produces structural changes and worse assessments of academic achievement.

The new study suggests a link between childhood poverty and academic deficits, reports

The results published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics suggest the differences for low-income children could explain “as much as an estimated 20% of the achievement gap.”

Seth Pollak, at the US University of Wisconsin-Madison, and colleagues analyzed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of 389 children and adolescents aged between 4 and 22 years who were developing typically. Complete socio-demographic and neuroimaging data were available for them.

The children’s scores on cognitive and academic achievement tests were also taken with the scans of brain tissue, which included gray matter of the total brain, frontal lobe, temporal lobe and hippocampus.

Researchers found regional gray matter volumes were 8-10% below the developmental norm in the brains of children below the federal poverty level.

Children below 150% of the poverty level had regional gray matter brain volumes 3-4% below the developmental norm.

Researchers said socioeconomic disparities in school readiness and academic performance are well documented. On standardized tests in the study, children from low-income households scored 4-7 percentage points lower. Children in poverty were associated with lower test scores and developmental lags in their brain development.

In their research which examined over 400 cases, the authors found that delayed maturity in child’s frontal and temporal lobes was responsible for up to 20 percent of “achievement deficits” in test performance.

Little has been known about the mechanisms underlying the influence of poverty on children’s academic achievement, however.

The study concludes: “Development in these brain regions appears sensitive to the child’s environment and nurturance. The observations suggest that interventions aimed at improving children’s environments may also alter the link between childhood poverty and deficits in cognition and academic achievement.”