Science, Tech & Environment

'This is Your Brain on Poverty'

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A child's brain is fragile, vulnerable to many outside influences like television, video games, and playmates. And though child advocates often complain about the ill effects of TV and advertising on young brains, scientists now think that childhood poverty may be one of the most damaging influences of all.

Martha Farah, Director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania:

"I guess it's kind of obvious that living in poverty results in a lot more stress in your life. But it may not be obvious to people just how much more stress is experienced by low-income individuals. Not only the stress of trying to make your rent payment, trying to put food on the table, but just the unpredictability and lack of control over your own life that goes along with the kinds of neighborhoods that low-income people live in, the kinds of jobs that they have. These are all factors that conspire to really make it very stressful – just everyday life."

Courtney Stevens of the University of Oregon says there's no question this stress causes harm, not just to parents, but also to their children's brain development:

"What we know is that poverty has a way of crawling under the skin and getting into the brain. We know one of the big mechanisms whereby this happens is through stress – that high levels of stress for a child in a sense produces a toxic environment within that child's body for healthy brain development and healthy cognitive skills."

Hosted by Steve Curwood, "Living on Earth" is an award-winning environmental news program that delves into the leading issues affecting the world we inhabit. More "Living on Earth.

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