Research Links Poverty to Impaired Brain Activity in Early Childhood

Friday, April 12, 2019

A recent study of the brain function of young children in rural India suggests that childhood poverty can adversely affect working memory by weakening brain activity and increasing distractibility. Researchers from the University of East Anglia in Britain found that children from impoverished backgrounds demonstrated low brain activity as well as increased levels of distractibility.  

The study, published in the journal Developmental Science, focused on children aged between four months and four years, who came from lower-income backgrounds and whose mothers had a low level of education. Using a portable functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) device, researchers assessed the children’s “visual working memory,”—how well visual information is detected and stored.

After taking into account various socioeconomic factors, including parental education, income, caste, religion, the number of children in the family and the economy, the researchers then compared these results from the Indian children with those from children in the American Midwest. The Indian children demonstrated weaker brain activity and diminished distractor suppression in their left frontal cortices when compared to the Midwestern control group.

Findings like these help researchers move closer to understanding why 250 million children in low and middle income countries fail to reach their developmental potential and, ultimately, design interventions to improve early childhood brain development.

Read more from the University of East Anglia.