Poverty and Brain Development

Mauricio Delgado over at the Scientific American blog:


Membership in a high social class is thought to contribute to good mental well-being and physical health. Low socioeconomic status, in contrast, increases one’s vulnerability for developing psychiatric or chronic medical conditions, research suggests. Various aspects of socioeconomic status could affect personal health in different ways, but most scientific attention has focused on the role of stress. Surprisingly, the most stressful part of being of lower socieconomic status might not be feelings of deprivation, as might be expected, but rather the subjective perception of our lower social standing.

Although epidemiological associations between low socioeconomic status and stress, and their consequences on mental health have been well documented, there have been fewer attempts to understand the neural pathways through which status and stress may interact in human society. That is the goal of the intriguing study by Peter Gianaros and colleagues entitled “Perigenual anterior cingulate morphology covaries with perceived social standing.” Gianaros and colleagues take advantage of the idea that the subjective perception of low socioeconomic status is a strong predictor of future health. They use a computational structural neuroimaging method to investigate if brain volume of neural substrates linked to stress varies according to perceived social standing.