How Poverty Changes Your Brain

When you’re poor, it can be hard to go grab
a cheeseburger, or buy the newest video game, but that’s not the worst part. The tough part
is that even if you get rich, the effects of poverty stick with you. As of 2011, the World Bank estimates 17 percent
of people lived at or below a dollar twenty five a day — that’s just over a billion people.
In 1981 it was closer to 2 billion, so we’re making progress[1]! In 2013, the official
poverty rate in the U.S. was 14.5 percent — totalling around 45.3 million poor people
in the wealthiest country in the world[2]. Governments worldwide are fighting poverty
in a number of ways, and not just because it’s the right thing to do, science says poverty
actually HARMS you. A 2013 study published in Science[3], explored
how poverty impairs overall cognitive function. They looked at farmers both pre and post harvest
of a cash crop of sugar cane. After the harvest of the cane, nutrition wasn’t immediately
improved, but the influx of cash gave the farmers financial security. That security
gave their cognitive performance a boost! Post-harvest farmers were able to make better
decisions than pre-harvest farmers did[4]. Poverty is a combination of stressors which,
as a whole, are not fully understood by science. The findings in Science suggest stress alone
doesn’t explain all of poverty’s effects on humankind, and that being in poverty keeps
the brain from processing information properly. But how those effects manifest seems to vary. For example, a study released last month in
Nature Neuroscience[5] found a link between physical brain development and poverty level.
In a study of the brain images of nearly 11-hundred children, adolescents and young adults from
around the US, researchers found significant differences in the brains of children in the
lowest income bracket; even when controlling for ethnic background; in comparison to those
in a high bracket. Families who lived on less than 25,000 dollars a year had as much as
6 percent less surface area in their brain in areas like language and decision-making
than families who made more than 150,000 dollars a year. Poverty’s effects on the brain causes excess
stress on children, both psychological and physiological! Poor children can suffer from
substandard housing, homelessness, inadequate child care, under-resourced schooling, and
of course inadequate nutrition. All of these can then cause stress leading to anxiety,
depression and low-self esteem, as well as a tendency toward violence[6]. In a study
of 44 African American infant girls, brains of those from poorer families were smaller
than those of wealthier families! Even at only one month old, the effects of poverty
can be seen on the physical structures of the human brain. Extreme poverty is a real hardship, affecting
people even after they’ve risen above the poverty line. Familial stressors like “family
disruption, financial stress and maternal poor health[7]” can cause obesity in children;
which isn’t easy to overcome. Plus, anxiety, low self-esteem and differing brain structures
all require future attention from healthcare, which could be avoided by raising children
and families out of poverty. In families with a low socioeconomic status, shifts of even
a few thousand dollars of extra family income was visible in the brain structures! Governments around the world are working hard
to find solutions. In the U.S. our poverty solutions involve giving tax breaks, food
stamps, and social security programs to poorer individuals — though many politicians scoff
at these ideas, the poverty rate has declined. One recent study conducted in Kenya showed
that when poor people are given money, they spend it on education, healthcare and housing
improvements, all of which decrease the poverty stress on them and their children[8]. Not to say the problem is solved, by any means,
research is ongoing, but this episode of DNews is just one part of the story. For the full
picture you watch TestTube to learn if policies, like food stamps, actually work to raise people
of poverty.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *