The brain of a disadvantaged child may differ from a wealthy one
Poverty can put a crimp in a child’s motivation to learn, according to a new study.
Although individuals from low-income families are traditionally thought to have weaker motivation and resilience, recent research suggests that economic struggles may have the opposite effect on the brains of kids and adolescents.
“A lot of the findings have come out of children who had learned to thrive despite adversity — people who didn’t struggle academically. Our study asked about what happened when they started struggling,” said Daniel Slabaugh, a professor of sociology at Michigan State University, who led the work.
The study, published Monday in the Journal of Education and Human Development, found that children who earned relatively little in an impoverished area had significantly lower school grades than a control group who had the same academic abilities, but a higher income. While this research doesn’t establish causation, it supports the idea that poverty exerts a negative effect on children’s brains.
The researchers measured motivation and self-regulation during a summer program based on standardized measures of measures like academic readiness, sleep quality, success in self-control tasks and impulsivity. Then, during a formal test, the researchers asked the same questions about impulsivity, self-control and performance on academic tasks.
The results showed that even though cognitive ability was in sync, motivation and self-regulation were associated with different grades in the summer program. Low-income children in the program averaged 4.15 grade points, while the children in the control group averaged 4.37 grade points.
While poorer students did slightly better than control students on academic tests, the difference wasn’t significant enough to be statistically significant, the researchers note.
The results reveal a potential link between economic disadvantage and educational difficulties, which has long been suspected.
“In our most recent experience, academic and cognitive deficits can be traced to even worse circumstances. When kids in lower-income families are exposed to greater levels of economic deprivation, it appears that they are more likely to develop chronic, and potentially permanent, academic difficulties,” the study stated.