Poverty Influences Children’s Early Brain Development
December 30, 2013- Tom Joseph
HARRISBURG- A new study links poverty with slower early brain
development. According to the study, children of low-income families have
slower rates of growth in a number of areas, including two key parts of the
The problem is described by one of the researchers involved, psychology
professor Seth Pollak.
"Poverty seems to be putting children's brains on a different trajectory
of development," he said. "It's slowing the development of the brains
of infants living in poverty."
Pollak and other researchers studied 400 children from birth to age four. He
said there is a distinct difference in the brain scans of children living in
poverty. The research indicates they don't develop as rapidly, which Pollak
said helps explain behavioral, learning and attention problems.
"We'll see children living in poverty who are placed in front of a
television set and they sit there and they don't really move and they just
watch a video all day," he said. "Sometimes they're just left in a
room with really nothing to do. We see children come into the laboratory who
don't have crayons or pencils, because they don't have any of these things at
According to Pollak and his fellow researchers, environmental factors that
contribute to slower brain development often come with poverty, such as poor
nutrition, a lack of sleep, an unsafe environment, and a lack of books and
The research indicates that child-adult interaction is critical, but often
absent in homes of low-income families, along with other factors.
Poverty may make it impossible to have "a child feeling protected, a child
feeling secure, a child being supported, a child being spoken to and interacted
with in a way that provides the child more information and practice in
communication and making sense," he said.
A Kids Count Data Center study released earlier this year by the Annie E. Casey
Foundation finds more than half a million Pennsylvania children, or 20 percent
of them, living in poverty. In addition, 41 percent of children between the
ages of three and five years in Pennsylvania aren't enrolled in nursery school,
pre-school or kindergarten.