Sat. May 25th, 2019

Study highlights influence of poverty on youngsters’ brain functions

A new study from the University of East Anglia states that children born into poverty show significant alterations in primary brain functions.

Researchers in rural India examined the brain workings of children between 4 months and 4 years of age.

It was discovered that children from lesser-earning families, (whose mothers had received low-level of education), had feebler brain activity and were more probable to be distracted.

The lead researcher, Prof John Spencer, of UEA’s School of Psychology, stated: “Each year, 250 million children in low and middle income countries fail to reach their developmental potential.”

There is, therefore, a growing need to understand the global impact of poverty on early brain and behavioral development.

“Previous work has shown that poverty and early adversities significantly impact brain development, contributing to a vicious cycle of poverty. But few studies have looked at brain function early in development.

“We wanted to find out more about the functional brain development of children born into poorer backgrounds – to see why many do not reach their full potential. This work is the first step in intervention efforts designed to boost early brain health before adversity can take hold.”

By utilizing a ‘functional near-infrared spectroscopy’ (fNIRS) device, researchers examined the brain activity of 42 youngsters.

They examined the youngsters’ ‘visual working memory.’

“We use our visual working memory around 10,000 times a day. Children begin to develop this skill in early infancy and it gradually improves through childhood and adolescence. We know that it is an excellent marker of early cognitive development,” Prof Spencer stated.

The research took place in partnership with the Community Empowerment Lab in Lucknow.

Participants took part in a visual exam consisting of blinking displays of colored squares. The aim was to check if the kids could recall the colors enough to notice that there was constantly a color change on a side of the screen, while those on the other side remained the same.

Influences including education of parents, income, caste, etc. were taken into account, and the outcomes matched with children of families in America.

It was discovered that the children in India displayed feebler brain activity and inferior distractor suppression.

“Although the impact of adversity on brain development can trap children in an intergenerational cycle of poverty, the massive potential for brain plasticity is also a source of hope.”