Children from low income families have less developed brains and scored below average on standard tests, according to research in the US.
Socioeconomic disparities in school readiness and academic performance are well documented but little is known about the mechanisms underlying the effect of poverty on learning and achievement.
Seth D. Pollak, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and colleagues analysed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of 389 children and adolescents ages 4 to 22.
Development in brain regions appears sensitive to the child’s environment and nurturing, the researchers say.
On average, children from low income households scored four to seven percentage points lower on standardised tests, according to the results.
The authors estimate as much as 20% of the gap in test scores could be explained by developmental lags in the frontal and temporal lobes.
“These observations suggest that interventions aimed at improving children’s environments may also alter the link between childhood poverty and deficits in cognition and academic achievement,” they say.
The research is published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
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