Poverty in Early Childhood
Results in Smaller Brain Size


Researchers from the departments of psychiatry, radiology, psychology and neuroscience at Washington University tracked the emotional and brain development of 145 preschoolers for 10 years, finding a link between early childhood poverty and smaller brain size. “These study findings demonstrated that exposure to poverty during early childhood is associated with smaller white matter, cortical grey matter, and hippocampal and amygdala volumes,” concluded the authors in yesterday’s JAMA Pediatrics.

Abstract →

Luby, J., Belden, A., Botteron, K., Marrus, N, et al; The Effects of Poverty on Childhood Brain Development. JAMA Pediatrics. Published online October 28, 2013. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.3139

Of further interest;
Brain development affected in poor children, researchers find (CBC News)

Previous article“Tuff” Love:
A Public Safety Alternative
Next article“Does It Make Sense to Scrap Psychiatric Diagnosis?”
Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected].


  1. I can just see it now: tens of thousands of psychiatrist across the country are going “hmm, looks like just about everything causes brain shrinkage/damage. Mental illness, stress, poverty. So I guess it’s no big deal that we’re having to accept neuroleptic drugs to be brain damaging, it turns out it’s not really a big deal at all. Here’s to putting another thousand kids on Risperdal!”

    Report comment

  2. For the two modes of research and types of intervention, I think that it’s the same river, but different undercurrents. Or else, it should be put that it’s different undercurrents, but the very same limited access river of suits, labs, and laws.

    Duh, poverty hurts a kid in America.

    However, the researchers identify the relevant variables. But there is some residue from “broken-brain theory” in having to omit statements that directly implicate the affect on the children who have the brains, and not just some way they will be ready for their check-ups.

    Report comment

  3. I see a different spin being put on this. The kids are poor BECAUSE THEY HAVE SMALLER BRAINS!!! They are born to poor parents, who undoubtedly also have smaller brains, which proves that poverty is a genetic condition and we don’t have to worry about fighting poverty, because it’s really their brains’ fault after all. What an awesome discovery!

    (Just in case anyone misinterprets, the above is to be read with dripping sarcasm and irony. But it wouldn’t shock me if some biopsych proponent came up with that interpretation for real.)

    —- Steve

    Report comment