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Poverty hurts kids’ creative thinking as much as brain damage

Children growing up in poverty have brains that are substantially less developed than children who grow up more comfortably, a new study finds. The under-development is so substantial that the children’s brains resemble those of an adult who has suffered brain damage.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley measured the brain’s electrical activity as children completed a task. They found lower levels of activity in a part of the frontal lobe that controls creativity and problem-solving.

The researchers posit that children’s brains can be affected by growing up in a stressful environment and having less exposure to cognitive stimuli like conversations with adults and visits to museums. But demography isn’t destiny, they say:

“This is a wake-up call,” Knight said. “It’s not just that these kids are poor and more likely to have health problems, but they might actually not be getting full brain development from the stressful and relatively impoverished environment associated with low socioeconomic status: fewer books, less reading, fewer games, fewer visits to museums.”

Kishiyama, Knight and Boyce suspect that the brain differences can be eliminated by proper training. They are collaborating with UC Berkeley neuroscientists who use games to improve the prefrontal cortex function, and thus the reasoning ability, of school-age children.

“It’s not a life sentence,” Knight emphasized. “We think that with proper intervention and training, you could get improvement in both behavioral and physiological indices.”

This research could help explain why children who live in public housing do worse than kids who live in other kinds of housing, as a recent study revealed.

[Via Core Knowledge Blog]

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