Growing in severe poverty can adversely affect children's brain development, thereby putting them at a disadvantage for academic achievement, new research has found.
The researchers found that low-income children had atypical structural brain development and lower standardized test scores.
"These observations suggest that interventions aimed at improving children's environments may also alter the link between childhood poverty and deficits in cognition and academic achievement," the study noted.
The authors estimated that as much as 20 percent of the gap in test scores could be explained by developmental lags in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain.
While the frontal lobe is important for controlling attention, inhibition, emotions and complex learning, the temporal lobe is important for memory and language comprehension, such as identifying and attaching meaning to words.
Socioeconomic disparities in school readiness and academic performance are well documented but little is known about the mechanisms underlying the influence of poverty on children's learning and achievement.
For the study, Seth Pollak of the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US, and colleagues analyzed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of 389 typically developing children and adolescents ages four to 22 with complete sociodemographic and neuroimaging data.
The authors measured children's scores on cognitive and academic achievement tests and brain tissue, including gray matter of the total brain, frontal lobe, temporal lobe and hippocampus.
They observed developmental lags in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brains of children stricken with severe poverty.
On average, children from low-income households scored four to seven points lower on standardized tests, according to the results.
The study was published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.