Nov 05

How Poverty Affects the Brain

In a recent Scientific American article, researchers found that growing up in poverty can hinder childhood achievement and affect life trajectory. While this may not be surprising, since it is less likely that children from poor families can afford higher education or job training leading to more successful careers, there are neurological changes that occur making it even more difficult for young people to achieve lofty goals.

Poor children often face a combination of deficits in language and selective attention skills, which is the ability to tune out unwanted distractions and focus on classroom activities.

What researchers need to discover is how to take advantage of the characteristics of the brain to counteract any negative effects from poverty. Eric Pakulak of the University of Oregon cites neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change as it is exposed to new experiences, as a key factor.  The brain is vulnerable to harmful influences like poverty early in development, but it is also amenable to being molded to develop along one developmental pathway or another beyond the first five years of life.

The ever-growing ability of neuroscience to monitor the brains of even the youngest children can help tease out the still-elusive effects of poverty and perhaps lead to evidence-based interventions to ameliorate its effects.


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