Neuroscience unearths uncomfortable truths in new US study


“People…need to know the importance of the brain….They need to know it’s changed by experience. They need to know that genes are not destiny.”


An extensive research project carried out by the University of Oregon last year has confirmed the findings of smaller studies around the world: the more exposed you are to poverty (and the longer it continues) the dumber you get.

“Children growing up in poverty, for various reasons, have much poorer brain development and cognitive development than children growing up in more upscale environments,” says project leader and Neuroscientist Helen Neville, When we look at electrophysiological and MRI studies of their brains we can see differences between higher and lower socio-economic status children. Executive function and self-control is lower, language skills are lower, IQ is lower, attention — the ability to focus on one thing and ignore distracting information — is poorer, and working memory is poorer.”

While this sounds like grist to the mill of far-Right geneticists, in fact it isn’t any such thing. First, the study has shown that this ‘learned’ brain arangement can be reversed. And second, it shows conclusively that if nothing is done, the syndrome gets worse and mars adult behaviour….a syndrome with which all social realists will be familiar. Ms Neville continues:

“We’ve also observed, it’s important to note, these same differences in adults. Most people focus just on kids. But … in our lab we’ve looked at adults from lower socioeconomic status backgrounds, and their brains and cognition look really different too. So these effects are long-lasting.”

Naturally, the chicken-and-egg factor remains: do genetically less bright people wind up with lower socio-economic status anyway? The answer is they must in some cases. But the question becomes somewhat academic until such time as some genius decides to erase those featurs from a foetus. More significant is the reality that intervention can help:

“After several training studies targeting different processes, we observed that the two most effective interventions we could do is to train attention in these kids, so we’ve developed little games and puzzles for kids to do that they enjoy doing, to target self-control and attention, ” Neville adds, “And the other training we’re doing at the same time is with the parents of those children, who we talk to about parent skills, the importance of talking to your child and using consistent discipline, giving choices and the importance of attention and self-regulation.”

Not kidnapping their children, then? No, Helen Neville doesn’t mention that, she being a scientist rather than a polemically blinded social worker.

The study has obvious ramifications for Government policy in the fields of social intervention and education. It also tends to confirm the view held by sane people, viz – lower socio-economic presence at top Universities has more to do with IQ and home environment than class prejudice. One wonders if the Harmaband Labour Party can take the findings of this study on board. But one doesn’t wonder for long, really.

Equally, however, the study gives support to the Duncan-Smiths and Goves of this world in their quest to reverse the slide into lower and lower standards of achievement and behaviour. It puts the Tory Right back in its box too – and offers the Cameroons a real chance to justify a bold, united policy handled jointly by the DWP and DoE.

Above all, it says that the longer we ignore the truth about people in ‘poverty’ (which is only poverty in a narrowly self-regarding European sense) the worse the problem will get. The Left’s solution will be to keep lowering the bar. The Right’s answer is to double the Police budget. Neither are correct: what these findings show is that government needs to do something new and proactive in order to snip the vicious circle.

As for myself, I wonder why there aren’t more MPs reading this sort of thing, as opposed to getting pissed in the Commons Bar, or chasing non-exec directorships. What I won’t do is hold my breath waiting for the Coalition to notice this remarkable piece of research.