Growing up Poor Changes Kid’s Brain

Chronic stress experienced by children from low-income families reduces their ability to manage their emotions in adulthood.

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Dr. Pilyoung Kim from the University of Denver and her colleagues have analyzed the activity of the brain in 54 people aged 24 years. Half of the participants of the experiment lived in poor families when they were 9 years old, and the other half came from well-to-do families. The participants were shown images with a negative emotional load and were requested to reduce the severity of their reaction to these pictures. For example, if the image depicted people weeping in the church, it was necessary to imagine that those were the guests crying for joy after the wedding, or if the picture showed a battered woman with a cigarette, it was necessary to imagine that it was a smoking actress during the filming.

The volunteers, who had lived all their childhood in poverty, barely coped with this task. Registering the indicators of the participants’ brain activity with the help of functional magnetic resonance imaging, the researchers found that they had reduced the activity of neurons in the prefrontal cortex, and they had failed to suppress the excessive activity of the amygdala. In this case, a person’s income in adulthood had no impact on his/her ability to control emotions.

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