Does Socioeconomic Status Play a Role in the Neurological Development of Children?

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Last week, members of the Society for Neuroscience convened in New Orleans for their annual meeting, where several studies examining the links between early childhood brain development and home life experiences were presented.

Among those discussed was “Neural Correlates of Socioeconomic Status (SES) in the Developing Human Brain,” a report led by Columbia University assistant professor of pediatrics Kimberly Noble. 

According to the study, researchers observed a correlation between the education and income level of parents and the development of several areas of their children’s brains - in particular, the areas vital to stress reception, learning and memorization. 

“Socioeconomic disparities in childhood are associated with remarkable differences in cognitive and socio-emotional development during a time when dramatic changes are occurring in the brain,” the report states. 

Using a broad base of subjects, from families that lived at the poverty threshold to families that made more than $100,000 annually, researchers found that the hippocampi - the portion of the brain essential in memorization and learning functions - of children living with parents with higher incomes had a larger “volume” than those in subjects raised by parents with lower incomes. Similarly, researchers found that the amygdalae - the portion of the brain that processes stress - of children living with parents with more educational experiences had lower “volumes” than those in children raised by parents with less educational experiences.

“Likely mechanisms include differences in the home linguistic environment and exposure to stress, which may serve as targets for intervention at a time of high neural plasticity,” the report states. “Behavioral evidence suggests that language, memory, social-emotional processing, and cognitive control exhibit relatively large differences across SES.”