Mother Jones Features Kim Noble’s Research on How Poverty Affects a Child’s Development
A July 3 article in Mother Jones magazine features the research of Kimberly Noble, who studies the link between poverty and brain development. Noble, Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Education and Director of the Neurocognition, Early Experience and Development (NEED) Lab at Teachers College, "is among the handful of neuroscientists and pediatricians who’ve seen increasing evidence that poverty itself—and not factors like nutrition, language exposure, family stability, or prenatal issues, as previously thought—may diminish the growth of a child’s brain," writes Mike Mariani. "Now she’s in the middle of planning a five-year, nationwide study that could establish a causal link between poverty and brain development—and, in the process, suggest a path forward for helping our poorest children."
Noble began as a graduate student in 2005 to search for a neurocognitive explanation for the underperformance of poor kids in school compared to their wealthier peers. With colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, she began to develop a “'neurocognitive profile' of socioeconomic status and the developing brain," Mariani writes. By examining the brains of children across the socioeconomic spectrum with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, Noble and her fellow researchers found that "kids from poorer, less-educated families tended to have thinner subregions of the prefrontal cortex—a part of the brain strongly associated with executive functioning—than better-off kids. That could explain weaker academic achievement and even lower IQs."
Twelve years later, Noble is gearing up for another study that will try to prove causality. She and several other researchers are developing a nationwide study in which 1,000 low-income families will receive cash payments of either $333 or $20 per month. "If the children who receive the modest stipend show healthier brain activity and perform better on cognitive tests than those in the control group, Noble and her colleagues will have the first causal evidence linking dire poverty to neural development," Mariani writes.
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Published Wednesday, Jul 5, 2017