Poverty in early childhood poisons the brain, the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston yesterday heard.
Neuroscientists said many children growing up in very poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which impair their neural development. That effect is on top of any damage caused by inadequate nutrition and exposure to environmental toxins.
Studies by several US universities have revealed the pervasive harm done to the brain, particularly between the ages of six months and three years, from low socio-economic status.
Martha Farah, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s centre for cognitive neuroscience, said: “The biggest effects are on language and memory. The finding about memory impairment – the ability to encounter a pattern and remember it – really surprised us.”