Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Study Shows Stressful Childhoods Affects the Achievement Gap

Another reason all children need health care and we need to expand access to education for children and parents from age birth to 5.

From Wired...

Growing up poor isn't merely hard on kids. It might also be bad for their brains. A long-term study of cognitive development in lower- and middle-class students found strong links between childhood poverty, physiological stress and adult memory.

The findings support a neurobiological hypothesis for why impoverished children consistently fare worse than their middle-class counterparts in school, and eventually in life. [...]

"A plausible contributor to the income-achievement gap is working-memory impairment in lower-income adults caused by stress-related damage to the brain during childhood," they wrote.

To test their hypothesis, Evans and Schamberg analyzed the results of their earlier, long-term study of stress in 195 poor and middle-class Caucasian students, half male and half female. In that study, which found a direct link between poverty and stress, students' blood pressure and stress hormones were measured at 9 and 13 years old. At 17, their memory was tested.

Given a sequence of items to remember‚ teenagers who grew up in poverty remembered an average of 8.5 items. Those who were well-off during childhood remembered an average of 9.44 items. So-called working memory is considered a reliable indicator of reading, language and problem-solving ability — capacities critical for adult success.

When Evans and Schamberg controlled for birth weight, maternal education, parental marital status and parenting styles, the effect remained. When they mathematically adjusted for youthful stress levels, the difference disappeared.

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