Link between income, child's brain activity

December 2, 2008 5:54:50 PM PST
In the world of child psychology, a team from U.C. Berkeley found the brains of low-income children function differently from the brains of wealthier kids. The questions are how and of course, why.

Scientists say the front part of your brain helps you solve problems and become more creative.

"The part just above your eyes is involved in social regulation, how you interact, and make social decisions," said Bob Knight, a U.C. Berkeley professor of psychology.

The front area is called the frontal lobe. Research now shows that part of the brain functions differently in low-income kids when compared to high-income children.

Twenty-six kids, ages nine to 10 were tested. Thirteen kids were from low income homes and other half from high income homes. When given something unusual and novel to do, in other words a new task, there was less brain activity in that area among the low-socio economic group.

"They grew up in more stressful environments, we think this is a large contribution to it. Also they don't have as many things, materials to read, they don't have as many cognitively stimulating types of materials," said Mark Kishiyama, author of the study.

The high-income kids also had more verbal interaction with their parents.

"It just means they are better prepared to interact in a flexible way, in a changing world. They are more flexible. The less flexible you are, the less success you have in life," said Knight.

However, there are ways to turn things around. There is good evidence that shows kids whose frontal lobe is not fully developed can improve with proper intervention and training.

Silvia Bunge leads another study of Oakland kids ages eight to12 who are working on ways to stimulate that part of the brain.

"Fifteen kids are playing reasoning games and problem solving games of all kinds, on the computer, on the Nintendo DS, paper and pencil and card games. The group playing the reasoning games, are going to show big improvements," said Silvia Bunge, a U.C. Berkeley assistant professor of psychology.

Both studies seem to make the case that early intervention such as preschool could help brain development.


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