Friday, May 28, 2010

Scientist to study how poverty effects brain development

A scientist from our home state of Michigan will conduct research to see how poverty effects the brain. Using new imaging technology Dr. James Swain will be able to determine how the stress and disadvantages of poverty shape a child's brain development.

From the Detroit News, writer Anne McIlroy asks Swain about his experiment.

The University of Michigan researcher will use imaging technologies to compare the structure and function of brains of young adults from families with low socioeconomic status to those who are middle-class.

He knows the work has the potential to be controversial, but he hopes it will eventually lead to new teaching methods or early-childhood interventions that would help children from low socioeconomic status (SES) families succeed at school and in life.

"That would be the dream, to inform social policy," Swain said.

He and other neuroscientists are building on preliminary evidence that suggests the chronic stress of living in an impoverished household, among other factors, can have an impact on the developing brain.

Studies suggest low socioeconomic status may affect several areas of the brain, including the circuitry involved in language, memory and in executive functions, a set of skills that help us focus on a problem and solve it.

His volunteers are 52 young adults that one of his colleagues, Gary Evans at Cornell University, has been tracking since they were in their mothers' wombs. Half of them grew up in poverty, the other half in working or middle-class homes.

As early as next month, Swain will begin two days of brain imaging and tests for each volunteer. He will assess language skills and memory and study how their brains react to pictures of scary faces, and whether that reaction changes when they are stressed. (He'll stress them by asking them to do mental arithmetic in front of strangers.)

From The Detroit News:

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