Study Finds Relationship Between Education, Income and Brain Development

A paper delivered at the annual Society for Neuroscientists meeting contended that there was a relationship between income and educational attainment of the parents and the development of their child's brain — especially areas used in learning, memory and stress processing. The researchers studied brain scans of children whose parents ranged in levels of education of between 8 and 21 years and whose family income fell between below-poverty to $140,000.

Kimberly Noble, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University, was the lead author of the report who was assisted by Elizabeth Sowell of University of Southern California. Together they discovered that the hippocampus area of the brain, which controls memory and learning, was larger in children who came from families that enjoyed a higher income. Children of parents who had a high level of education had smaller amygdalae, the part of the brain instrumental in processing and dealing with stress.

In an interview with The Washington Post's Janice D'Arcy, Noble referenced a study that found children who had spent more time in an orphanage abroad had a larger amygdala than those who were there for a shorter period of time.

Although some might draw the conclusion that children from disadvantaged backgrounds pay the price in the area of brain development, Noble was loath to promote this view. She said that it is more likely that the environmental factors inherent in growing up in a high-income rather than a low-income household most likely were the driving forces behind the differences. She said similar conclusions could be drawn from the divergence of hippocampus volume in children of parents with a high rather than low level of education.

As for what conclusions could be drawn from the study, Huffington Post reports that, in Noble's view, more attention should be paid to creating a stress-free environment for children that allows them an opportunity to satisfy their natural curiosity.

This is far from the first study to link family's income level with students' academic outcomes.

A report released in summer 2011 found that parental income is strongly linked to academic performance, even when accounting for other background factors, such as gender and race. The paper found each additional $10,000 in annual parental income throughout early childhood gave kids the equivalent of slightly more than one extra month of learning. The paper also found ties between maternal learning and student achievement: an additional year of a mother's schooling was equivalent to about half month of additional learning, as gauged by test scores.

10 25, 2012
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