Too much stress impairs working memory in the brain

Monday, April 06, 2009

See this school? Very little stress here.

This just in from the Institute of Duh:

Children raised in poverty suffer many ill effects: They often have health problems and tend to struggle in school, which can create a cycle of poverty across generations.

Now, research is providing what could be crucial clues to explain how childhood poverty translates into dimmer chances of success: Chronic stress from growing up poor appears to have a direct impact on the brain, leaving children with impairment in at least one key area -- working memory.

"There's been lots of evidence that low-income families are under tremendous amounts of stress, and we know that stress has many implications," said Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., who led the research. "What this data raises is the possibility that it's also related to cognitive development."

Not that studies like this aren't important, since it's good to confirm scientifically even phenomena that we are already pretty much sure is true (because sometimes it turns out to be not true, as was the case with Galileo's experiment that showed that heavier objects don't fall faster than lighter ones). But even without the study it's pretty obvious that poor children with a lot of stress naturally have a much harder time concentrating on what they're supposed to be doing (learning), especially when the poverty is also accompanied by other problems, since other unwise decisions (smoking / drinking too much, gambling habit, etc.) often accompany this and that has a negative effect on the family as a whole.


"The greater proportion of your childhood that your family spent in poverty, the poorer your working memory, and that link is largely explained by this chronic physiologic stress," Evans said. "We put these things together and can say the reason we get this link between poverty and deficits in working memory is this chronic elevated stress."

There needs to be a focus on just what brings about this poverty, because simply not having money isn't necessarily a bad thing, since you can have a very low salary but no debt (and thus less stress), or some families may choose to live simpler lives in exchange for only working part-time (once again much less stress) and spending a lot more time working at a self-sustaining life, such as growing one's own vegetables, reducing energy bills, etc. This is a kind of voluntary poverty that is actually the complete opposite of other families that have gotten into a poverty that they actually despise, and likely blame each other for.

This lack of stress is also why schools like Summerhill and others founded on similar concepts work so well. I went to an alternative high school myself for two years and it was the best two years of my life as a student. No stress, lots of self-directed learning, very self-motivated students and a strong community atmosphere (including recycling just about everything, holding fundraisers, other community service from time to time).

Hm, looks like they've even constructed a huge garden on the school grounds. They didn't have that when I was there.


Unknown said...

It is completely true that many people are happier by choosing to be voluntary poors, and I find it very curious and fascinating:

Antonielly said...

It is completely true that many people are happier by choosing to be voluntary poors, and I find it very curious and fascinating:

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