The difference in academic achievement between students from higher- and lower-income backgrounds is substantial and growing. A group of collaborators
from M.I.T., Harvard, and Columbia has examined the neuroanatomical correlates of the income-achievement gap by comparing the structure of the cerebral cortex (which supports perception, language, and thought) in public-school students who do (lower income) and do not (higher income) receive free or reduced-price lunch, and by relating this neuroanatomy to performance on standardized tests of academic skills. For further discussion of effects of poverty on young brains see the article by Ostrander
in The New Yorker.
In the United States, the difference in academic achievement between higher- and lower-income students (i.e., the income-achievement gap) is substantial and growing. In the research reported here, we investigated neuroanatomical correlates of this gap in adolescents (N = 58) in whom academic achievement was measured by statewide standardized testing. Cortical gray-matter volume was significantly greater in students from higher-income backgrounds (n = 35) than in students from lower-income backgrounds (n = 23), but cortical white-matter volume and total cortical surface area did not differ significantly between groups. Cortical thickness in all lobes of the brain was greater in students from higher-income than lower-income backgrounds. Greater cortical thickness, particularly in temporal and occipital lobes, was associated with better test performance. These results represent the first evidence that cortical thickness in higher- and lower-income students differs across broad swaths of the brain and that cortical thickness is related to scores on academic-achievement tests.
Cortical-thickness differences between income groups. The brain images in (a) show regions where cortical thickness was significantly greater in the higher-income (HI) group than in the lower-income (LI) group.
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