A great many studies have now been conducted which show that those who grow up in poverty run the risk of the physical development of their brains being harmed, resulting in a negative impact on their adult lives.
HOW DOES POVERTY AFFECT BRAIN DEVELOPMENT?
Poverty can affect brain development as it can mean that the child grows up in a kind of cultural and intellectual vacuum, devoid of adequate mental stimulation; in effect, the child may become educationally impoverished. Such a situation places the brain under considerable stress.
As a result of this stress, the actual physical development of the brain (also called neurological development) can be harmed. Such harm has been found, through research, to :
– impair academic performance (eg Farah, 2005)
– make the individual more susceptible to mental illness in later life (eg psychosis, depression, personality disorders, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance misuse and problems with impulse control)
– make the individual more vulnerable to physical illness in later life and ultimately reduce life expectancy (click here to read my article about this)
COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENTS LINKED TO GROWING UP IN POVERTY :
Research carried out over the last decade or so has also demonstrated a link between the experience of early life poverty and the development of certain impairments of cognitive (mental) functioning. These include :
– impairments relating to visuo-spatial awareness
– language impairments
– memory impairments
WHAT SPECIFIC DAMAGE CAN GROWING UP IN A LOW SOCIO-ECONOMIC GROUP DO TO THE BRAIN?
Research shows that, specifically, the stress exerted upon the brain by growing up in poverty can :
– damage the development of the hippocampus (Teicher et al, 2012, found that those who grew up in poverty had, on average, a lower volume of grey matter in the hippocampus than those who did not)
– adversely affect the development of the prefrontal cortex
Further research has revealed that the hippocampus appears to be particularly susceptible to damage between the ages of 3-5 years, whereas the prefrontal cortex is especially vulnerable between the ages of 14-16 years. It is also important to note that there can be a significant time delay between the physical damage done to the brain’s development and overt symptoms of this damage becoming manifest.
IS THIS DAMAGE REVERSIBLE?
The good news is that much of this damage seems to be reversible – you can find out more about this by clicking here to read my article about such reversibility.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).