Factors Relating To Family Income May Affect A Child's Brain Development

First Posted: Apr 01, 2015 05:14 PM EDT

Could children raised in lower income families potentially experience slower brain development? New findings published in Nature Neuroscience examine how this has affected some growing up in certain environments and how programs that aim to alleviate poverty may be effective in raising cognition levels and overall functionality skills in children.

For the study, researchers from Columbia University in New York City examined over 1,000 children between the ages of three and 20. The study authors conducted cognitive examinations, brain imaging, DNA testing and parental surveys on various education levels.

Researchers zeroed in on two socioeconomic factors, including parental education and family income, specifically looking at how these effected the development of the brain's surface area and the cortical thickness, which are both linked to human intelligence.

Findings reevaled that more intelligent children had thinner cortices at age 10, which continued on into adolescence. However, the brain's surface area was thicker for the same group.

Specific areas of the brain are affected by socioecnomic status, including memory, language and problem solving functions. However, further studies will be needed in order to cement a connection regarding the nurture part of the study.

Of course, what the study is essentially saying is that higher-income families may be able to provide more nutritious foods for their children, a safer and more conducive home and environment for learning, overall, as well as less exposure to pollutants that could put a dent on childrens' physical health as they age. However, researchers strongly note that socioeconomic status alone cannot change the way their brains develop and grow.

Yet as it stands, the study authors are looking toward the future to learn more.

"We are proposing to recruit a national sample of low-income mothers, randomise half to receive a large monthly payment and half to receive a modest monthly payment, and assess the causal impact of this income supplementation on children's cognitive and brain development," study co-author and Associate Professor Kimberly Noble concluded, in a news release. "If evidence supports our hypotheses, then it would suggest that governments would be well served to increase the generosity of social services for the most disadvantaged families."

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