Poverty-related stress affects readiness for school

Oct 26, 2011

Stress in the lives of poor children is one cause of the early achievement gap in which children from low-income homes start school behind their more advantaged classmates.

That's the finding from a new study by scientists at Pennsylvania State University, New York University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The study appears in the journal Child Development.

A group of called executive functions are considered important for regulating behavior, managing new and potentially confusing information, adjusting to school, and making in the early elementary grades. We know that executive functions develop rapidly in early childhood, and that they're compromised by stress. Researchers in this study asked whether or not executive functions in early childhood are influenced by stress in children's lives.

Looking at almost 1,300 young children in mostly low-income homes, they examined aspects of children's early environment between 7 and 24 months, including , the household environment (such as safety and ), and the quality of parenting (for example, levels of mothers' sensitivity, detachment, and intrusiveness when interacting with their children). They also examined one indicator of stress—by measuring levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in the children—and administered a battery of three tests related to executive functions when the children were 3.

The researchers found that children in lower-income homes received less positive parenting and had higher levels of cortisol in their first two years than children in slightly better-off homes. Cortisol was higher in African American children than in White children. Higher levels of cortisol were associated with lower levels of executive function abilities.

"In sum, early stresses in the lives of children living in poverty affect how these children develop executive functions that are important for school readiness," explains Clancy Blair, professor of applied psychology at New York University, who led the study.

Explore further: Why plants in the office make us more productive

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Early abuse tied to more depression in children

Feb 05, 2010

Although children can be depressed for many reasons, new evidence suggests that there are physiological differences among depressed children based on their experiences of abuse before age 5. Early abuse may be especially ...

Mom or dad has bipolar disorder? Keep stress in check

May 05, 2011

Children whose mother or father is affected by bipolar disorder may need to keep their stress levels in check. A new international study, led by Concordia University, suggests the stress hormone cortisol is a key player in ...

Children stressed six months before starting school

Aug 31, 2007

The first few days at school can be an anxious time as children face the challenge of a new environment and making new friends. However, according to new research from the universities of Bristol and Bath funded by the Economic ...

Chronic stress seems linked to achievement gap

Jan 31, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Children in low-income families lag behind their higher-income counterparts on virtually all measures of achievement, and this gap tends to increase over time. There are many reasons why, but a Cornell environmental ...

Recommended for you

Precarious work schedules common among younger workers

Aug 29, 2014

One wish many workers may have this Labor Day is for more control and predictability of their work schedules. A new report finds that unpredictability is widespread in many workers' schedules—one reason ...

Girls got game

Aug 29, 2014

Debi Taylor has worked in everything from construction development to IT, and is well and truly socialised into male-dominated workplaces. So when she found herself the only female in her game development ...

Computer games give a boost to English

Aug 28, 2014

If you want to make a mark in the world of computer games you had better have a good English vocabulary. It has now also been scientifically proven that someone who is good at computer games has a larger ...

Saddam Hussein—a sincere dictator?

Aug 28, 2014

Are political speeches manipulative and strategic? They could be – when politicians say one thing in public, and privately believe something else, political scientists say. Saddam Hussein's legacy of recording private discussions ...

User comments : 0