Thursday, December 11, 2008

Things People Research

University of California, Berkeley, researchers have shown for the first time that the brains of low-income children function differently from the brains of high-income kids. In a study recently accepted for publication by the Journal of Cognitive Euroscience, scientists at UC Berkeley's Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and the School of Public Health report that normal 9- and 10-year-olds differing only in socioeconomic status have detectable differences in the response of their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is critical for problem solving and creativity.

OK. And the conclusion ?

"This is a wake-up call," Knight said. "It's not just that these kids are poor and more likely to have health problems, but
they might actually not be getting full brain development from the stressful and relatively impoverished environment
associated with low socioeconomic status: fewer books, less reading, fewer games, fewer visits to museums."

Really ? I thought this was obvious to anyone who has been in teaching for even one school year. Please give me research money.

Also, there are a lot of smart kids , of all incomes, who don't do well in school simply because they don't get pushed to do well. Their parents don't think school is that important, don't want to pressure them or, in general, a lot of teachers and parents are intimidated by strong - willed kids and won't get in their face. And by 'smart', I mean kids that pick things up quickly.

More conclusions:

"The study is suggestive and a little bit frightening that environmental conditions have such a strong impact on brain
development," said Silvia Bunge, UC Berkeley assistant professor of psychology who is leading the intervention studies
on prefrontal cortex development in teenagers by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)

Yes, the environment matters. Conditioning matters. But politically, that is not 'in style' now. At some point in the mythical future, I suspect we will find out how much more conditioning, environment, and imitation matters than genetics. The small number of studies of identical twins, separated at birth by adoption, have been shocking in how much their paths deviated.

Maybe they should do a study of rich and poor adults. They might find that rich adults are greedier than poor adults. No one ever seems to suggest a study like that. It's always: "What is wrong with poor people and why can't they be like rich people ?"

And, they don't mention that there are a lot of poor kids who are smarter than rich kids.