Poverty Can Have a Profound Impact on the Brain

Poverty Can Have a Profound Impact on the BrainAn October 28, 2013 blog post by Emily Badger published in theatlanticcities.com explores ways that poverty taxes the brain. Badger says research shows that poverty shapes people in some surprising ways.

“Poverty sucks up so much mental bandwidth – capacity spent wrestling with scarce resources, for example – that the poor have fewer cognitive resources left over to succeed at parenting,” says Badger.

“Experiencing poverty is like knocking 13 points off your IQ as you try to navigate everything else. That’s like living, perpetually, on a missed night of sleep,” she says.

PCHAS Child and Family Specialists have found that poverty can affect even the most loving parents’ ability to be good parents. “These parents, our clients, struggle to provide their children with basic needs – food, clothing and shelter – and sometimes they are not able to provide the emotional support that their children need,” said Pam Crawford, PCHAS Child and Family Supervisor in Corsicana, Texas.

The children of parents who are unable to practice nurturing parenting (affection, attachment, playful engagement) can be profoundly developmentally delayed, and this can lead to social, behavioral and emotional problems for a child, said Crawford.

Badger says in her article that poor children in the recent study had “more problems regulating their emotions as adults (regardless of what their income status was at age 24).” She points out that “these same patterns of ‘dysregulation’ in the brain have been observed in people with depression, anxiety disorders, aggression and post-traumatic stress disorders.”

PCHAS Child and Family Specialists help their clients break the circle of poverty and its negative effects on their children. They do this by employing a variety of methods, including:

  • Identifying a family’s strengths and determine areas where they can grow
  • Teaching parenting and life skills
  • Offering individual and group counseling
  • Teaching a family how to establish daily routines, manage behaviors and sustain healthy relationships

By Margaret Barry

Read Badger’s blog post