Education & Family

Poorer children 'have smaller brains', researchers say

Brain scan Image copyright Science Photo Library

Children with richer parents have bigger brains than their poorer counterparts, new research suggests.

Differences in regions of the brain that deal with language, reading, decision-making and memory were most marked, the study found.

But the scientists from California also found that community help and teaching can remedy the disparities.

The team concludes that factors such as better school lunches and motivated teachers can have a significant impact.

In what is claimed to be the biggest study of its kind, scientists from the University of Southern California tested 1,099 typically developing people - male and female - aged between three and 20.

They measured brain surface area by scans and conducted cognitive tests, and then compared the results with the income levels of the parents.

They corrected for other potential influences on brain structure, such as inherited characteristics.

Their research is published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Marked variations

The researchers found that in addition to differences between the brains of the richest and the poorest, there were also marked variations at the lower end of the scale.

There was a bigger difference, for example, between the results in children from families earning $30,000 and $50,000 per year than there was between those earning $90,000 and $110,000.

Report co-author Elizabeth Sowell said: "The most important point we want to convey is not, 'If you are poor, your brain will be smaller, and there is nothing that can be done about it' - that is absolutely not the message.

"It seems reasonable to speculate that resources afforded by the more affluent, such as nutrition, childcare, schools, help 'wire' the brain through development," she said.

"It is not too late to think about how to impact resources that enrich the developmental environment that in turn help the brain wire itself together."

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