The Situationist

The Situational Consequences of Poverty on Brains

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 9, 2010

Anne McIlroy wrote a piece for the Toronto Globe and Mail describing research by Dr. James Swain, who is using brain imaging techniques to study the effects of poverty on the brain.  Here are some excerpts.

* * *

Over the past four decades, researchers have established how poverty shapes lives, that low socioeconomic status is associated with poor academic performance, poor mental and physical health and other negative outcomes. Swain is part of a new generation of neuroscientists investigating how poverty shapes the brain.

The University of Michigan researcher will use imaging technologies to compare the structure and function of brains of young adults from families with low socioeconomic status to those who are middle-class.

* * *

He and other neuroscientists are building on preliminary evidence that suggests the chronic stress of living in an impoverished household, among other factors, can have an impact on the developing brain.

Studies suggest low socioeconomic status may affect several areas of the brain, including the circuitry involved in language, memory and in executive functions, a set of skills that help us focus on a problem and solve it.

* * *

At Michigan, Swain will be looking at many different parts of the brain and the connections between regions.

His volunteers are 52 young adults that one of his colleagues, Gary Evans at Cornell University, has been tracking since they were in their mothers’ wombs. Half of them grew up in poverty, the other half in working or middle-class homes.

As early as next month, Swain will begin two days of brain imaging and tests for each volunteer. He will assess language skills and memory and study how their brains react to pictures of scary faces, and whether that reaction changes when they are stressed. (He’ll stress them by asking them to do mental arithmetic in front of strangers.)

* * *

You can read the entire article here.   For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Inequality and the Unequal Situation of Mental and Physical Health,” The Interior Situation of Intergenerational Poverty,” Rich Brains, Poor Brains?,” Jeffrey Sachs on the Situation of Global Poverty,” “The Situation of Financial Risk-Taking,” “The Situation of Standardized Test Scores,”The Toll of Discrimination on Black Women,” The Physical Pains of Discrimination,” The Depressing Effects of Racial Discrimination,” and The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions.”

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One Response to “The Situational Consequences of Poverty on Brains”

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