Poor Children Learn To Pay Attention Differently
This is fascinating, and distressing:
“Kids who come from poor families have a harder time ignoring insignificant environmental information than children who come from higher income families, because they have learned to pay attention to things differently, according to a new study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
Amedeo D’Angiulli, of Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, and his team used electroencephalography (EEG) to analyze brain patterns evoked by a selective attention task in kids of low income and high income backgrounds.
The researchers discovered that the groups of children displayed differences in theta brain waves in the frontal lobe, a brain area involved in attention. This revealed that the participants used different neural systems for the task, and kids with a lower socioeconomic status allocated extra mental resources to focus on unimportant information.
‘Socioeconomic environment shapes the way our neurocognitive functions develop in childhood and influences the way we process information when we are adults, so that we can be well adapted to a specific type of social environment,” said D’Angiulli.
D’Angiulli and his team enlisted 28 kids between the ages of 12 and 14 from two schools of contrasting socioeconomic status. One school was mostly attended by children who were from high income families, while the other was mostly attended by kids from low income backgrounds.
The children’s brain waves were recorded while the researchers played different sounds into both of their ears, and they were asked to press a button as quickly as possible when they heard a certain sound.
Researchers found no major differences between the two groups in the precision or timing of the participants’ reactions. However, the experts did find differences in the participants’ brain wave patterns. Children of higher socioeconomic status showed much larger theta waves when hearing sounds they paid attention to than sounds they ignored. Children of lower socioeconomic status showed the opposite pattern: theta waves were larger in response to sounds they were supposed to ignore than those they were supposed to pay attention to.
These results indicate that children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds have to exercise more cognitive control in order to ignore unimportant information than children of higher socioeconomic status. The researchers say this may be because these kids tend to live in environments which are more threatening than the children of higher socioeconomic status, which could lead them monitor a wider range of information and sounds.” (Read more here.)
It’s easy to imagine how growing up in a threatening environment would lead a child to tune in to potentially important signals from his or her environment—and also how this hyper-vigilance could be problematic in a school setting.