Cash assistance to low-income families changes brain activity in babies

key takeaways

  • A new study offers low-income mothers a cash allowance in the first year of their child’s life.
  • The researchers found that children whose mothers received more cash assistance had faster rhythms of brain activity in key regions.
  • The researchers hope the study will inform policy decisions and provide insights into how aid affects children’s cognitive brain development and overall health.

A new study that provides low-income mothers with cash allowances for their children’s first year of life finds that cash assistance affects the brain activity of these babies.

The researchers recruited 1,000 different low-income mothers from four metropolitan areas of New York, New Orleans, the Twin Cities and Omaha. Shortly after the mothers gave birth, they were randomized into low-cash and high-cash gift groups. The low cash group received $20 per month, while the high cash gift group received $333 per month. The amount awarded is provided by federal programs such as SNAP benefits and other food assistance programs.

Data is collected from mothers and children until the child is one year old. Using a portable electroencephalogram (EEG), researchers were able to measure children’s brain activity.

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“The results of one of our studies suggest that infants in the high-cash gift group, mothers who received more money, showed more fast-paced brain regions in key areas of the brain,” said Dr. Sonya Troller-Renfree, a postdoctoral research associate at Columbia University. activities.” , told VigorTip. “In some other studies, these areas support later thinking and learning.” She adds that the brain can be experienced, a concept known as neuroplasticity.

“We think money may be changing the environment the brain is in, and thus changing the way the brain works,” Troller-Renfree said. “However, it doesn’t make the brain better or worse.”

It remains to be seen whether these changes in brain patterns lead to higher skills and learning.

The February study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

what does this mean to you

Currently, monthly child tax credit payments have stopped in 2022. That could change as Congress works to pass a version of the “Build Back Better” policy that calls for financial support for households.

What this means for policy

The inspiration and motivation for this study was the need for rigorous data to document how poverty affects children and their development. It also comes at a time when the Biden administration is proposing a child care policy package as part of the Build Back Better Act.

“Many of us were involved in research in the 90s that really tried to look at the impact of poverty on children as a way of making policy decisions because a lot of the evidence on which policy decisions were based was about employment or adult well-being, but very little Focus on children,” Dr. Kathryn Magnuson, professor of social work in the Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work and director of the UW-Madison Institute for Poverty, told Well.

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Previous research has found a correlation between childhood poverty and lower brainwave power in high frequency bands in the EEG compared to peers who did not live in poverty.

Many cash assistance policies, such as the Child Tax Credit (a law that provides financial support to parents with children under 17 until 2021) have been heavily politicized as “government handouts” to stigmatize low-income families.

Magnuson hopes their study will provide scientific evidence for the effects of cash assistance on babies and remove the stigma of low-income families.

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Low-income mothers and families are “historically, structurally and economically excluded by policies that make it difficult for them to succeed,” Magnuson said.

“A lot of the political discussion is about how you can’t trust your mother to do the right thing,” Magnussen explained. “The key point is that you can trust these communities and these families to invest in their children and to be very resilient and strong despite all the systems stacking up to make life harder for them.”

future research

Currently, the team is gearing up to complete a four-year assessment for the children’s fourth birthday.

“We’re going to measure brain activity again, so we can see if the pattern is still there,” Troller-Renfree noted.

Magnuson and Troller-Renfree’s original plan was to study children’s development until the age of three. However, the pandemic disrupted those plans.

“We’re halfway through our face-to-face data collection with one-year-olds,” Magnussen explained. “Then in March 2020, we had to stop all face-to-face data collection.”

Therefore, data was collected until face-to-face data collection was not possible due to the pandemic. Magnuson and Troller-Renfree will continue to collect data in person and track children’s future birthdays, conducting in-person assessments that measure cognitive development, language development and health to better understand how poverty affects brain frequency and function.