Poverty and brain development
Results are preliminary but a study at UC Berkeley found significant differences in brain function between kids from lower and higher economic groups. The study was corrected for prenatal and environmental health factors like lead poisoning:
“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.”
Kishiyama, Knight and Boyce suspect that the brain differences can be eliminated by proper training. They are collaborating with UC Berkeley neuroscientists who use games to improve the prefrontal cortex function, and thus the reasoning ability, of school-age children.
Science Daily: Poor Children’s Brain Activity Resembles That Of Stroke Victims, EEG Shows
Wait, games? We can improve kids’ neural function with games? What about forcing them to cram for high-stakes NCLB tests? Doing page after page of repetitious addition problems? You mean a game of Yahtzee with your parents might be a better bet? A basketball game with a neighborhood coach could teach them more than a multiple-choice test?
My son Chris, reading over my shoulder as I type, quips; “Actually a game of anything with anyone would be a better bet.”
Human brains, especially developing ones, actually adapt themselves to the requirements of the challenges they face – it’s called neuroplasticity. Give a kid a completely unchallenging environment and you get a simpler brain. Make them think and you get a better brain. Why should the brain be any different from the rest of the body?
The researchers posited that something as simple as parents talking to their kids over dinner could make a big difference. And there is hope:
“It’s not a life sentence,” Knight emphasized. “We think that with proper intervention and training, you could get improvement in both behavioral and physiological indices.”
Poverty is a difficult lock to pick; not only of the bank account, it is also of the mind and spirit. And the key lies in relationships as much as it does in programs. Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, and Isaac Asimov all came from poor or lower-class families, but had parents who engaged them.
- One of my old posts, The logic of play