Pass / Fail | So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

Study finds childhood poverty may cause smaller brain size

A real human brain being displayed as part of an exhibition in Bristol, England in 2011.
A real human brain being displayed as part of an exhibition in Bristol, England in 2011.
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

As poverty continues to grow in the United States, a recent study finds a new casualty: the  developing brain of  young children. 

Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine found that children exposed to poverty from an early age had smaller “brain volumes” in the regions of the brain that process emotions and memory.

Published last month in the journal, JAMA Pediatrics, the study looked at existing data of 145 children in St. Louis from age 6-12. They were first screened in preschool and then the group of children was followed annually.

The children underwent yearly magnetic resonance imaging of their brains to calculate the volumes of white matter, cortical gray matter, hippocampus and amygdala. Those last two are the areas that contribute towards the processing of emotions and memory - and that's where the research found a link. 

The study concluded that children who grew up poor often had smaller brain mass volumes in their hippocampus and amygdala.

The research team also tested the children for stress and observed parenting styles at a session where the children and caregivers were assessed together.  

Researchers found that if children live in poverty but caregivers helped shield them from stressful “life events” and are attentive in their care, that this helped to mitigate the smaller-brain size.

They cautioned that the results could not be used to conclude that poverty or stress or bad parenting result in a smaller brain that children would be stuck with for life.