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How Poverty Alters the Young Brain

New research reveals a strong connection between income and the surface area of several key neural regions.
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Behavioral scientists have made some truly groundbreaking insights into the cognitive costs of poverty in recent years. We now know, for instance, that scarcity puts a huge strain on our mental resources—the equivalent of stripping 13 points off our IQ, or losing a night’s sleep—making it that much tougher to handle daily tasks or decisions. That’s just one of many findings pointing to the same conclusion: poverty literally alters the way you process the world.

Some notable new work further explores how poverty disrupts the brain from a very early age. The study (spotted by Madeline Ostrander in the New Yorker) comes from a huge research team led by the developmental neuroscientist and pediatrician Kimberly Noble of Columbia University. In the journal Nature Neuroscience, Noble and company call this work “the largest study to date to characterize associations between socioeconomic factors and children’s brain structure.”