Monday, February 18, 2008

Poverty impacts on neural development of children

According to an article 'Poverty is Poison' in today's New York Times:

neuroscientists have found that “many children growing up in very poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which impair their neural development.” The effect is to impair language development and memory — and hence the ability to escape poverty — for the rest of the child’s life.

Poverty News Blog reports on the same study:
Studies by several US universities have revealed the pervasive harm done to the brain, particularly between the ages of six months and three years, from low socio-economic status.

Martha Farah, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s centre for cognitive neuroscience, said: “The biggest effects are on language and memory. The finding about memory impairment – the ability to encounter a pattern and remember it – really surprised us.”

Interventions in the first few years of a child's life is vital:

Jack Shonkoff, director of Harvard University’s centre on the developing child, said policymakers had to take note of the research because “the foundation of all social problems later in life takes place in the early years”.“The earlier you intervene [to counteract the impact of poverty], the better the outcome in the end, because the brain loses its plasticity [adaptability] as the child becomes older,” he said.

What happens if this small window of neurological adaptability is lost?
Once poor, always poor?


Anonymous said...

Hess and Shipman (1965) conducted a study in which it was found mothers of different socioeconomic classes also spoke to their children differently (quality and quantity). Those of lower economic status spoke in a manner that did not allow for the more reflective and high-order language structures that those of the "middle-class" families produced. So, in effect, language also has the ability to be a kind of "preserative" of class structure. The burden is then placed squarely on the educational system, etc., to provide more sophisticated models from a young age, or else the children from such families may be doomed before they even start,lacking as they do the higher-order thought capabilities necessary to succeed.

Anonymous said...

It is assumed that language plays a large role in the ability to manipulate ideas in the mind, etc. I am sorry I didn't spell that detail out. Language is internalized to become thought, particularly the kind of thought school success depends upon.