How we are programmed to be poor
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How we are programmed to be poor  posted in Neuroscience

Alice: Environmental factors yield differences in developement of brain structures.

News Feature: The neuroscience of poverty

Low socioeconomic status (SES) affected functions thought to engage specific brain circuits: for example, language, certain dimensions of memory, and the ability to regulate thoughts and emotions.

Higher levels of stress are connected to weaker memory performance. One design quirk of the brain is that the hippocampus, a key structure for consolidating memories, happens to be loaded with stress hormone receptors.

During a brain scan called functional tomography low-SES five-year-olds showed less specialization in a key region of the cortex implicated in reading.

Much of the work over the past few years ... has highlighted structural differences, including preliminary findings in the amygdala, which plays a role in processing fear and other emotions, and in the prefrontal cortex, involved in decision-making and self-control.

The most consistent finding has been that of a smaller hippocampus in low-SES children. The trajectory starts ... in the toddler years, with a clear difference by the age of four.

Nutrition, prenatal care, parents' mental health and levels of stress in a family are considered factors as some poverty-associated brain changes could be occurring prenatally.

The good news is, especially in children, the brain is extremely plastic, so a positive intervention is possible, for example, in forms of educational programs for parents and parents-to-be and financial support.

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