December 6, 2008

Poverty Leads to Brain Differences

On the heels of my post about how people deny research, is a post about a research study!

There is a study that has just been approved for publication in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. It talks about those children who live in poverty have poor prefrontal cortex response time. That area of the brain is responsible for problem solving and creativity. This is great information for social workers to have in their arsenal.

Any thoughts?

EEGs show brain differences between poor and rich kids
 | 02 December 2008
University of California, Berkeley, researchers have shown for the first time that the brains of low-income children function differently from the brains of high-income kids.
In a study recently accepted for publication by the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, scientists at UC Berkeley's Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and the School of Public Health report that normal 9- and 10-year-olds differing only in socioeconomic status have detectable differences in the response of their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is critical for problem solving and creativity.

Electroencephalography, or EEG, uses electrodes on the scalp and held in place by a cap to measure underlying brain activity. (Lee Michael Perry/UC Berkeley)
Brain function was measured by means of an electroencephalograph (EEG) - basically, a cap fitted with electrodes to measure electrical activity in the brain - like that used to assess epilepsy, sleep disorders and brain tumors.
"Kids from lower socioeconomic levels show brain physiology patterns similar to someone who actually had damage in the frontal lobe as an adult," said Robert Knight, director of the institute and a UC Berkeley professor of psychology. "We found that kids are more likely to have a low response if they have low socioeconomic status, though not everyone who is poor has low frontal lobe response."
Previous studies have shown a possible link between frontal lobe function and behavioral differences in children from low and high socioeconomic levels, but according to cognitive psychologist Mark Kishiyama, first author of the new paper, "those studies were only indirect measures of brain function and could not disentangle the effects of intelligence, language proficiency and other factors that tend to be associated with low socioeconomic status. Our study is the first with direct measure of brain activity where there is no issue of task complexity."
Co-author W. Thomas Boyce, UC Berkeley professor emeritus of public health who currently is the British Columbia Leadership Chair of Child Development at the University of British Columbia (UBC), is not surprised by the results. "We know kids growing up in resource-poor environments have more trouble with the kinds of behavioral control that the prefrontal cortex is involved in regulating. But the fact that we see functional differences in prefrontal cortex response in lower socioeconomic status kids is definitive."
Boyce, a pediatrician and developmental psychobiologist, heads a joint UC Berkeley/UBC research program called WINKS - Wellness in Kids - that looks at how the disadvantages of growing up in low socioeconomic circumstances change children's basic neural development over the first several years of life.
"This is a wake-up call," Knight said. "It's not just that these kids are poor and more likely to have health problems, but they might actually not be getting full brain development from the stressful and relatively impoverished environment associated with low socioeconomic status: fewer books, less reading, fewer games, fewer visits to museums."
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Reas Kroicowl said...

The beef I have with the article is this: it doesn't define what is "high income" vs. "low income", and we both know those terms can be cut many ways. Additionally, at a total sample size of 26, I'd say the results are hardly definitive. However, it's certainly interesting...

antiSWer said...

I didn't catch that about the lack of definition of levels. That will probably be included in the actual publication, whenever that comes out. I'll hunt it down when it's released.

As for the sample, it's not a bad size. Now that they have these results, they can do some more research.

illusivejoy said...

Always good to question research and the way it is presented...but I find this possibility disturbing honestly.

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