"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Cash to Poor Families and Early Childhood Brain Activity

In a randomized controlled study, new research finds "causal impact" between decreasing poverty and increased brain activity of young children. 


This study demonstrates the causal impact of a poverty reduction intervention on early childhood brain activity. Data from the Baby’s First Years study, a randomized control trial, show that a predictable, monthly unconditional cash transfer given to low-income families may have a causal impact on infant brain activity. In the context of greater economic resources, children’s experiences changed, and their brain activity adapted to those experiences. The resultant brain activity patterns have been shown to be associated with the development of subsequent cognitive skills.


Early childhood poverty is a risk factor for lower school achievement, reduced earnings, and poorer health, and has been associated with differences in brain structure and function. Whether poverty causes differences in neurodevelopment, or is merely associated with factors that cause such differences, remains unclear. Here, we report estimates of the causal impact of a poverty reduction intervention on brain activity in the first year of life. We draw data from a subsample of the Baby’s First Years study, which recruited 1,000 diverse low-income mother–infant dyads. Shortly after giving birth, mothers were randomized to receive either a large or nominal monthly unconditional cash gift. Infant brain activity was assessed at approximately 1 y of age in the child’s home, using resting electroencephalography (EEG; n = 435). We hypothesized that infants in the high-cash gift group would have greater EEG power in the mid- to high-frequency bands and reduced power in a low-frequency band compared with infants in the low-cash gift group. Indeed, infants in the high-cash gift group showed more power in high-frequency bands. Effect sizes were similar in magnitude to many scalable education interventions, although the significance of estimates varied with the analytic specification. In sum, using a rigorous randomized design, we provide evidence that giving monthly unconditional cash transfers to mothers experiencing poverty in the first year of their children’s lives may change infant brain activity. Such changes reflect neuroplasticity and environmental adaptation and display a pattern that has been associated with the development of subsequent cognitive skills.

This latest finding is consistent with a body of research that shows direct correlations between family wealth, family income, school funding, and child academic achievement levels.  

It is sickening to think that monthly federal tax credit payments to families with children have been discontinued due to white privileged intransigence among anti-democrats.  The cutting of child poverty in half, which the program promised to accomplish in just a few years, could have been the greatest education reform of the past half century--if education reform were actually meant to help the disenfranchised, rather than holding them accountable for the educational problems that the white power establishment created.

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