New CROP Poverty Brief: Child Poverty under the lens of Cognitive Neuroscience
Sebastián J. Lipina and Martha Farah argues that poverty affects cognition, academic achievement and mental health.
Research on brain development allows the identification of the differences in the cognitive and affective neural systems that underlie these effects. In addition to parenting quality and the in utero and home environments, there are other factors that may mediate the effects of poverty on neural development: toxin exposure, nutrition, prenatal drug exposure, and stress. Each mediator is a potential target for intervention and prevention programmes.
Intervention programs could seek to influence aspects of brain development through strategies that include the training of specific neurocognitive functions, the provision of enriching environments during pre- and post-natal development, the reduction of parental stress, and enchancing parental emotional well-being and community resources, with focus on gender disparities (i.e., women’s health).
It will be important to support efforts aimed at promoting collaborations focused on the integration of different levels of analysis. In this sense, an agenda for the next studies on impacts of poverty should include the reconsideration of definition and measurement of child poverty in order to account for developmental processes in different contexts, and specific biological and social determinants and their mediation role as well.
Cognitive neuroscientists studying child poverty must grapple with the inevitable conflict between two good motives that arise in this context: the motive to translate laboratory work into the real world as quickly as possible by designing programs to screen for, reverse or prevent the neurocognitive impairments caused by child poverty, and the motive to defer drawing conclusions from research until carefully designed studies have been carried out, subjected to peer review, and even replicated across laboratories.