Published: March 11, 2020


Neuroscience could deliver valuable new insights into the experiences of childhood poverty, and the development of possible prevention and intervention programs to address it.

This is the finding of a new Life Course Centre Working Paper that examines the application of neuroscientific research methods, such as neuroimaging, neuroendocrinology, cognitive psychophysiology and epigenetics, to the study of child poverty.

The paper, ‘How developmental neuroscience can help address the problem of child poverty’, is authored by Professor Seth Pollak of the Department of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison along with Professor Barbara Wolfe of the La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

According to their Working Paper, nearly one in five children in the United States lives in a household whose income is below the official federal poverty line, and more than 40 per cent of children live in poor or near-poor households. The authors investigate how neuroscientific methods could be successfully married with the social sciences, particularly developmental psychology, to tackle the complex problem of child poverty.

The paper outlines a number of issues that should be considered in the use of neuroscience in this field of research and warns that simple solutions should not be expected. “It is not that there will be a clear brain signal that is diagnostic of poverty, or that any single neural process affected by poverty will be a direct cause of poor outcomes among impoverished children. Poverty represents many different kinds of social interactions, challenges, and stressors over the course of a child’s development. But developmental neuroscience does have a rich corpus of data that can help.”

The authors conclude that thoughtful, integrative, cross-disciplinary work shows great promise for targeting and refining new interventions, programs and policies targeting child poverty. “We place great hope on using new ways to combine scientific tools and multi-disciplinary insights to ensure equity in children’s health, success, and well‐being.”

You can read the full Working Paper here.