Poverty Early in Life Decreases White Matter Integrity in the Brain

May 11, 2016 · Posted in Brain Imaging, Neurobiology 

child poverty affects white matter in brain

One-fifth of children in America grow up in poor families. Poverty can affect development, health, and achievement, and new evidence shows it even affects brain structure.

New unpublished research suggests that early poverty can affect the brain’s structure into adulthood. At a 2015 scientific meeting, researcher James Swain reported that socio-economic status at age 9 was associated with the integrity of white matter in several regions of the brain, including the hippocampus, parahippocampal gyrus, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, corpus collosum, and thalamus at age 23–25, regardless of income at that time.

The brain regions affected by childhood poverty support executive function (planning and implementation skills), social cognition, memory, and language processing. White matter provides the physical connections between parts of the brain, so damage to white matter may lead to problems with functional connectivity of the brain.

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