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Study: Poverty Influences Children’s Early Brain Development

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Posted: Monday, December 30, 2013 12:46 pm | Updated: 4:36 pm, Mon Dec 30, 2013.

A new study links poverty with slower early brain development. According to the study, children of low-income families have slower rates of growth in a number of areas, including two key parts of the brain.

The problem is described by one of the researchers involved, psychology professor Seth Pollak.

"Poverty seems to be putting children's brains on a different trajectory of development," he said. "It's slowing the development of the brains of infants living in poverty."

Pollak and other researchers studied 400 children from birth to age four. He said there is a distinct difference in the brain scans of children living in poverty. The research indicates they don't develop as rapidly, which Pollak said helps explain behavioral, learning and attention problems.

"We'll see children living in poverty who are placed in front of a television set and they sit there and they don't really move and they just watch a video all day," he said. "Sometimes they're just left in a room with really nothing to do. We see children come into the laboratory who don't have crayons or pencils, because they don't have any of these things at home."

According to Pollak and his fellow researchers, environmental factors that contribute to slower brain development often come with poverty, such as poor nutrition, a lack of sleep, an unsafe environment, and a lack of books and educational toys.

The research indicates that child-adult interaction is critical, but often absent in homes of low-income families, along with other factors.

Poverty may make it impossible to have "a child feeling protected, a child feeling secure, a child being supported, a child being spoken to and interacted with in a way that provides the child more information and practice in communication and making sense," he said.

A Kids Count Data Center study released earlier this year by the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds more than half a million Pennsylvania children, or 20 percent of them, living in poverty. In addition, 41 percent of children between the ages of three and five years in Pennsylvania aren't enrolled in nursery school, pre-school or kindergarten.

Read a brief version of the study at www.news.wisc.edu/22393.

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