Poverty Hurts Children’s Brain Development But Social Safety Net May Help

Jun, 2023 - by CMI

Especially in high-cost-of-living areas, a new study reveals that strong aid programs reduce structural and mental health inequities.

Poverty and cognitive development are well-studied. Harvard psychology professor Katie A. McLaughlin found low-income youngsters are more nervous and unhappy. Family socioeconomic status affects brain growth, according to recent studies. McLaughlin et al.'s Nature Communications study indicated that a strong social safety net may protect youth cognitive health. Medicaid helps high-cost state children.

The 17-state Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study studied 11,000 children. ABCD measures offspring behavior and neurodevelopment. McLaughlin said multi-site neuroimaging is rare. John L. Loeb associate professor of social sciences Mark L. Hatzenbuehler used ABCD data to link brain morphology to state-level racism, sexism, and anti-immigration sentiments. McLaughlin says the aforementioned research uses a novel approach to examining how social and economic issues affect brain development. This study examines Hatzenbuehler's collaboration. The scientific study of the brain in its natural environment is called "contextual cognitive neuroscience."

Lower-income children had smaller hippocampi, according to McLaughlin Stress & Development Lab postdoctoral scientist David Weissman. Weissman believes chronic stress destroys the hippocampus, which controls memory and learning. High cortisol slows synapse formation in animals.

McLaughlin thinks a smaller hippocampus would hurt academics. Smaller hippocampus sizes may increase mental health risks in adolescents. Weissman et al. found smaller hippocampuses in low-income ABCD study participants at 10 and 11. Depression and anxiety increased. High-cost states pay richer students. McLaughlin believes it. New York and California low-income children can receive government aid. McLaughlin contrasted low-cost states. Mental health disparities explain one-third of brain anatomical variation.

ABCD households may obtain government help, Weissman noted. Above-threshold families were found. He considered poverty reduction helped recipients. Higher minimum salaries reduced achievement gaps. McLaughlin believes hypotheses-testing policies are part of a bigger social safety net for all aspects of life. McLaughlin said California cities are considering UBI. "If one ABCD state adopted it, we could investigate the potential reduction of socioeconomic disparities in child brain structure and mental health," she said.