US: Undoing poverty’s negative effect on brain development with cash transfers
Kimberly G. Noble, associate professor of neuroscience and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, has published an article in Nature which summarizes her research background and an upcoming experiment into brain development and poverty. Noble asks whether poverty may affect the development, “the size, shape, and functioning,” of a child’s brain, and whether “a cash stipend to parents” would prevent this kind of damage. Noble here describes the background and methodological underpinnings of a larger experiment not yet begun; the development of which Basic Income News has covered in the past.
Noble writes that “poverty places the young child’s brain at much greater risk of not going through the paces of normal development.” Children raised in poverty perform less well in school, are less likely to graduate from high school, and are less likely to continue on to college. Children raised in poverty are also more likely to be underemployed when adults. Sociological research and research done in the area of neuroscience has shown that a childhood spent in poverty can result in “significant differences in the size, shape and functioning” of the brain. Can the damage done to children’s brains be negated by the intervention of a subsidy for brain health?
Noble summarizes her 15 years of research into this subject. This most recent study’s fundamental difference from past efforts is that it explores what kind of effect “directly supplementing” the incomes of families will have on brain development. “Cash transfers, as opposed to counseling, child care and other services, have the potential to empower families to make the financial decisions they deem best for themselves and their children.” Noble’s hypothesis is that a “cascade of positive effects” will follow from the cash transfers, and that if proved correct, this has implications for public policy and “the potential to…affect the lives of millions of disadvantaged families with young children.”
Paper: Kimberly G. Noble, “Brain Trust,” Scientific American 316, 44-49, March 2017
Photo Credit: Childhood CC Farhad Sadykov