Study: Poverty Impacts Brain Function

By Free Radical 

brain1[1]Several studies have shown how structural racism and economic inequality can create a cyclical path for families trying to escape poverty. A recent piece in The Atlantic shows that economically disadvantaged people not only have to contend with broader socioeconomic challenges, but they also have to “free their mind.”

The Atlantic cites research conducted by Economic Mobility Pathways, or EMPath, which shows that poverty actually can change the brain. It explains that the pre-frontal cortex, which sits at the front of the brain, “handles problem-solving, goal-setting, and task-execution.” The study goes on to say that this portion of the brain works with the limbic system, located in the skull’s center, and “processes emotions and triggers emotional responses, in part because of its storage of long-term memory.”

Large amounts of stress, such as that experienced by impoverished people, result in the limbic system “constantly sending fear and stress messages to the prefrontal cortex, which overload its ability to solve problems, set goals, and complete tasks in the most efficient ways.”

These are the same competencies one would normally have to master to arise from poverty.

Fortunately, the pre-frontal and limbic portions of the brain are malleable. Thus, experiences free from stress can result in positive brain development. To this end, EMPath has created its Intergenerational Mobility Project which offers counseling to struggling families regarding healthy decision making.

While personal adjustments may help one’s ability to cope with poverty, some would argue that it does not address the core roots of disenfranchisement and inequality. For that, larger structural changes are necessary.

To view The Atlantic article, click here.


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