A troubling new MRI study has uncovered that there are differences in brain development between wealthy and impoverished children.
The study, called Family income, parental education and brain structure in children and adolescents was published in Nature Neuroscience spring 2015. It is the largest socioeconomic MRI brain study to date; its researchers spent 3 years studying the brain scans of 1, 099 children ages 3-20. For each scan, they measured the surface area of the brain’s outer layer (cerebral cortex), an important region for the development of language, decision-making skills and spatial awareness.
The scans showed that the cerebral cortices of children from families who made less than $25,000 annually were 6 per cent smaller than those whose families made $150,000 or more.
Says chief researcher, Dr. Kimberly Noble of Columbia University, “We see that children’s brain structure varies with parents’ educational attainment and income. However, she was careful not to say that poverty in and of itself is the cause. “Correlation is not causation,” she says. “We can talk about links between parents education and family income and children’s brain structure but we can’t say for sure these differences are causing differences in brain structure.”
The researchers theorize that the higher stress levels and limited nutritional options that poorer families experience may be contributing factors for the results in this study.
This latest study is just the beginning for Noble, who is leading another research project on this topic.
“The brain is incredibly plastic, incredibly able to be molded by experience, especially in childhood,” she says. “These changes are not immutable.”