According to a research, a person’s ranking in the socioeconomic ladder can have an enduring or lasting effect on cognitive development. But the question is, can it also affect the size and shape of the brain? In a way, it does; because a new study shows that the socioeconomic status of a family has a mutual relation with the surface area of children’s brains, regardless of genetic ancestry, race and other factors.
The study, which was published online in the journal Nature Neuroscience, also suggests that, not only does the parent’s salary appear to account for the variability in surface area of children’s brains, but a small raise for those on the low- or middle-income scale seems to have a disproportionately bigger effect on children’s brain size and scores on cognitive tests,
Elizabeth Sowell, the lead investigator of the study and a developmental neuroscientist at the Saban Research Institute at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, in a statement said, “We’ve known for a long time that cognitive development, school performance and productivity in adult life can be impacted by socioeconomic status, but now we’re actually seeing it in the brain.”
Despite the study’s result being shown, how exactly parental income might determine brain development is, still, not certain – many factors come along with income, and each may turn out to have a role.
Sowell stated further, “Money can buy better education, homes in areas further away from freeways; It can buy guitar lessons. It can buy after-school programs; it can buy better healthcare, and better nutrition. It’s all of those things that money can buy that lead to more enriched experiences for children in wealthier families.”
Significantly, those experiences physically reshape the brain over time.
Researchers were particularly interested in changes in surface area, which have been associated with the way the brain improves connectivity through a process somewhat analogous to adding insulation to wiring.
During the study, they used a pediatric database that includes brain images, genotypes, cognitive tests and developmental history for more than 1,000 young people, ages 3 to 20. That database, known as the Pediatric Imaging, Neurocognition and Genetics project, also includes information on parental income and education.
The result: Both income and education correlated with brain surface area, particularly in areas associated with language, reading and executive function. However, the study found out through further analysis that only income uniquely accounted for the variance in surface area.
Both Income and surface area also correlated with four tests of cognition, the study found.
As her final statement, Sowell said, “We think that if only we could make changes to enhance environments that we could modify development .”