Rich brains vs. poor brains in childhood

You may have heard about the recent study by Mark Kishiyama described by USA Today as follows:

A new study finds that certain brain functions of some low-income 9-
and 10-year-olds pale in comparison with those of wealthy children and
that the difference is almost equivalent to the damage from a stroke.

Here is more detail:

…[they] rigged up the noggins of 26 kids — with an average age of 9.5 years —
with probes that sense the ebb and flow of electrical current in
different regions of the brain. Then, they put them through a battery
of neuropsychological tests. Half of the kids came from families with
annual incomes that averaged just over $27,000 and generally had low
levels of parental education; the other half came from families where a
primary caregiver had completed at least four years of college and in
which annual household income averaged a little more than $97,000.

The paper is here.  Who better to ask about this than Michelle Dawson?  Michelle wrote to me:

I read the poor vs rich
kids brains study (Kishiyama et al.). It’s a very small study (13 in
each group) and the groups aren’t matched on ethnicity. In the major
task (the one which got media attention), where the authors looked at
ERPs [TC: here is a link on ERP], the performance of the two groups was the same. The performance
of the two groups on a Stroop task, a classic test of what the poor
kids are said to be incapable of, was also the same. The major
performance difference between groups was on vocabulary (the WISC-III
vocabulary test), but only a few tests were used. There was no attempt
to match the groups on IQ.

Just to repeat two key points: a) the observed difference in electrical current patterns may depend on IQ differences, not poverty, and b) on the actual major task the poor kids did just as well.  There are tasks where the poor children do less well but this is hardly news.

Popular science reporting on neuro issues is very often not to be trusted.

Addendum: There is more from Michelle Dawson in the comments.


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