Study links poverty to delayed brain development, learning challenges

Growing up in an environment of poverty can cause delays in the development of children’s brains, leading to ongoing challenges in school, according to new research by psychology professor Seth Pollak and economist Barbara Wolfe at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In an article from the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, Capital Times reporter Abigail Becker says the study is part of a growing body of socioeconomic brain research documenting what Joan Luby, a child psychiatry professor at Washington University in St. Louis, calls “poverty’s most insidious damage.”

She writes:

Along with graduate students Nicole Hair and Jamie Hanson, Pollak and Wolfe found that poverty can cause structural changes in areas of the brain associated with school readiness skills.

These parts of the brain are susceptible to circumstances often present in poor households, including stress, unstable housing, nutritional deficiencies, low academic stimulation and irregular access to health care.

Such research, Becker writes, is prompting legislators to explore what can be done to help these children succeed.

The article quotes State Senator Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point:

“These children are our future workforce, they’re our future leaders,” Lassa said. “We need to be making sure that they get the best start possible.”

Read the entire article in the Chippewa Herald:

Children left behind: Evidence grows of poverty’s toll on young brains, academic achievement gap

Naja Tunney’s home is filled with books. Sometimes she will pull them from a bookshelf to read during meals. At bedtime, Naja, 5, reads to her 2-year-old sister, Hannah. “We have books anywhere you sit in the living room,” said their mother, Cheryl Tunney, who curls up with her girls on an oversized green chair to read stories.