Family Income May Influence Brain Development

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A new study suggests that children’s brain development may be linked to socioeconomic factors. The study was published in Nature Neuroscience.

The researchers stress that socioeconomic factors do not completely control children’s cognition. However, children in more privileged positions may have access to resources that can lead to the difference in brain structure.

The study included 1,099 participants from the Pediatric Imaging, Neurocognition, and Genetics (PING) study. Each participant’s brain was measured using high-resolution MRI scans. Demographic and developmental history questionnaires provided the socioeconomic data, which included parent education levels and family income.

The researchers found that income was nonlinearly associated with brain surface area in children. This association was most pronounced in children of lowest-income families, where small differences in family income were associated with relatively large differences in brain surface area.

The effect was less pronounced in children from higher-income families, although some small differences in brain surface area were seen with incremental income increases.

Children from higher-families had better cognitive performance, and the researchers believe this could be linked to increased brain surface area.

Importantly, family income has been linked to factors including nutrition, health care, schools, play areas, and air quality, which can all affect childhood brain development.

Future research could potentially explore whether altering a child’s environment could affect brain development in a positive way.

Family Income May Influence Brain Development

Researchers at The Saban Research Institute of Children's Hospital Los Angeles, CA, and Columbia University Medical Center in New York, NY, have published the findings of a new study that investigates associations between socioeconomic factors and children's brain development in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

"While in no way implying that a child's socioeconomic circumstances lead to immutable changes in brain development or cognition," says Elizabeth Sowell, PhD, director of the Developmental Cognitive Neuroimaging Laboratory, part of the Institute for the Developing Mind at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, "our data suggest that wider access to resources likely afforded by the more affluent may lead to differences in a child's brain structure."

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