Exciting news! I’m the new curator of the Scientific American expert blog seminar Mind Matters. (Thanks, David!) For those of you who are unfamiliar with the site, it features commentary by real scientists on recent scientific papers. This week’s blog is by Mauricio Delgado, a neuroscientist at Rutgers, discussing a paper that found a neural correlate for social class.
In recent years, neuroscientific investigations of social class have really expanded, for several reasons. First of all, scientists are increasingly able to detect the fine-grained anatomical differences caused by differences in social status. (The amygdala, hippocampus, anterior cingulate, and neurogenesis pathways are all likely targets.) Most studies pinpoint the stress of poverty as the driving factor behind these anatomical changes. The second reason is that society in general is becoming more aware of growing social inequality. Here, for instance, is the beginning of Paul Krugman’s latest column:
“Poverty in early childhood poisons the brain.” That was the opening of an article in Saturday’s Financial Times, summarizing research presented last week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
As the article explained, neuroscientists have found that “many children growing up in very poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which impair their neural development.” The effect is to impair language development and memory — and hence the ability to escape poverty — for the rest of the child’s life.