Science Daily reports that the brains of the children of poor socio-economic status look like the brains of stroke victims:
University of California, Berkeley, researchers have shown for the first time that the brains of low-income children function differently from the brains of high-income kids.
In a study recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, scientists at UC Berkeley's Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and the School of Public Health report that normal 9- and 10-year-olds differing only in socioeconomic status have detectable differences in the response of their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is critical for problem solving and creativity.
Brain function was measured by means of an electroencephalograph (EEG) – basically, a cap fitted with electrodes to measure electrical activity in the brain – like that used to assess epilepsy, sleep disorders and brain tumors.
"Kids from lower socioeconomic levels show brain physiology patterns similar to someone who actually had damage in the frontal lobe as an adult," said Robert Knight, director of the institute and a UC Berkeley professor of psychology. "We found that kids are more likely to have a low response if they have low socioeconomic status, though not everyone who is poor has low frontal lobe response."...
"This is a wake-up call," Knight said. "It's not just that these kids are poor and more likely to have health problems, but they might actually not be getting full brain development from the stressful and relatively impoverished environment associated with low socioeconomic status: fewer books, less reading, fewer games, fewer visits to museums."
Kishiyama, Knight and Boyce suspect that the brain differences can be eliminated by proper training. They are collaborating with UC Berkeley neuroscientists who use games to improve the prefrontal cortex function, and thus the reasoning ability, of school-age children.
"It's not a life sentence," Knight emphasized. "We think that with proper intervention and training, you could get improvement in both behavioral and physiological indices."
You should read the entire article.
Here's the deal: if this research holds up, then it is fairly obvious that something needs to be done about it.
The question is what.
I know the temptation to suggest immediately that more government intervention programs need to be set up, and I understand the impulse.
But the reality is that the early reports suggest that it is within families that changes need to be made, particularly in this age of the destruction of the nuclear and extended family--a significant part in which has been played by government programs.
What I'd like to see, but am afraid will not occur in the inevitable demagoging of this issue, is that we'll actually get a look at what the best possible research says can and should be done, as effectively and quickly as possible. And then we'll use that to frame the public debate.
What I wonder is whether that can or will actually happen.