Academic journal article Human Ecology

Childhood Poverty Leads to Brain Impairments

Academic journal article Human Ecology

Childhood Poverty Leads to Brain Impairments

Article excerpt

Chronic stress from growing up in poverty has a physiological impact on children's brains, impairing their working memory and diminishing their ability to develop language, reading, and problem-solving skills, according to a study by Professor Gary Evans, the Elizabeth Lee Vincent Professor of Human Ecology in the Departments of Human Development and of Design and Environmental Analysis.


The study is one of the first to look at cognitive responses to physiological stress in children who live in poverty. It was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"There is a lot of evidence that low-income families are under tremendous amounts of stress, and we already know that stress has many implications," Evans said. "What these data raise is the possibility that stress is also related to cognitive development."

Evans and Michelc A. Schamher '08, who worked with Evans as an undergraduate, have been gathering detailed data about 195 children from rural households above and below the poverty line for 14 years. They quantified the level of physiological stress each child experienced at ages 9 and 13 using a "stress score" called allostatic load, which combines measures of the stress hormones Cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine with blood pressure and body mass index.

At age 17, the subjects also underwent tests to measure their working memory, which is the ability to remember information in the short term. …

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