Does poverty affect cognitive function

Poverty affects child brain development

  1. In children who grow up in precarious families, poverty leaves visible traces in the brain. Your cerebral cortex, for example, is measurably thinner.

  2. The prefrontal cortex and the temporal lobes are particularly affected. The changes are already recognizable in the first few years of life and are reflected in poorer cognitive performance.

  3. Therapists try to improve the "executive functions" and thus target-oriented action through special support measures for children of preschool age.

Eight-year-old Danielle comes to school hungry and tired. Once again there was no breakfast at home because the refrigerator is empty. A car alarm went off somewhere that night and Danielle had to calm her two-year-old brother down until he finally fell asleep again. In the morning she tortured herself out of bed at half past five, otherwise she would not have reached the school bus, which travels a long way through the whole city. Danielle is also worried: The landlord has threatened to be evicted if her mother doesn't finally pay the outstanding rent. As is so often the case, she fails to concentrate on the tasks.

Children who grow up in poverty are exposed to many pressures. Although their stories are all different, we observe that the adverse circumstances can have negative effects over the long term. This affects quite a few young people: in the USA one in four children lives below the poverty line (in Germany one in seven is at risk of "relative poverty").

This article is included in Brain & Mind 9/2017

Our educational system, it is hoped, should reduce social disparities over time and allow everyone to work their way up. But this point of view is too simple: the income of the family into which a child is born has too much influence on its educational success, its career opportunities and thus in turn its future financial situation ...