Date of Award

Spring 5-12-2018

Degree Type

Honors Thesis

First Advisor

Donal Skinner

Abstract

One out of every five American children lives below the federal poverty line. Considering that poverty is deemed one of the most influential risk factors for poor developmental outcomes, it is critical to understand what effect poverty has on the developing brain and how those brain changes affect a child’s life. Poverty is chiefly defined by having a low socioeconomic status (SES), but a low SES is often accompanied by other influencers, such as nutrition and mental stimulation, termed poverty co-factors. Other poverty co-factors include, but are not limited to, maternal stress and malnutrition, environmental toxins, parental nurturance, and education.

A low SES and accompanying poverty co-factors influence changes in the brain, including both the type and rate of change. Variances have been noted in the frontal lobe, prefrontal cortex, amygdala, hippocampus, and the white and grey matter size and ratios. Neurotransmitter and hormone modifications have also been observed. These brain changes have long-reaching impacts, affecting educational and intellectual attainment, emotional processing, and risk of mental illness.

As knowledge regarding poverty-driven brain changes increases, more possible intervention strategies are being developed. These strategies center on parental involvement and mental and verbal stimulation. The achievement discrepancies noticed between children raised below the poverty line and children raised above it likely contribute to the continuation of intergenerational poverty. Further research and information regarding poverty and how it affects the developing brain contribute to developing target strategies to ameliorate the effects of childhood poverty.

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