A very interesting report on the neuro socio development and progress of children from poorer background, is reported in the recent edition of The Economist. In the report they discuss the research study by Martha Farah of UPenn. Their investigation came out with a worrisome conclusion that, children born with poorer socio economic background have a greater chance of becoming underachievers (read as under performers compared to their middle-class counterparts). The study is of course based on statistical inference and hence there ought to be scope for exceptions (Large deviation theory!). However, being a statistical method, we can well assume that the behaviour is true on the average (expectation). This is truly not a conclusion we would like to hear, but to me, it appears to be a careful study and its conclusion opens up the ramifications of the larger crisis faced by millions of people all over the world, especially from developing countries and Africa.
What these researchers did is to study the stress level suffered by a person over the span of his/her life. They combined various type of pressure (such as systolic and diastolic blood pressure) and formed an index, what they called allostatic load. They found that this index is on the higher range among people from poorer background than those from middle class. They also have found that, the duration of the poverty life of a person is correlated with allostatic load.
The report appears to conclude that, stress is more or less the sole reason for spoiling the working memories of an individual. We could say that it is a little too strong a statement. Children under too much socio-economic stress tend to do badly in studies and that unfortunately carries on for ever. I am tempted to argue that, a socio-economic push, say by providing opportunities to such children will change the performance of an individual. After all, we know many instances of children born into poorer backgrounds scaled highs. But if you read the report carefully, they are not refuting this either. What they simply say is that, on a relative scale, the impact of stress during early childhood is much more serious than what we perceived to be. Children of poor perform poorly in school and stay on that way and sadly, remain as poor (under achievers) adults. Clearly, the authors refer ‘poor’ adults as state of ‘under achieving’ compared to their counter parts from a middle class background. In that case, one can always argue on the definition. True, one doesn’t have to be a genius to do well in life. But, the larger picture however is clear. A poorer childhood may limit his/her potential.
It can be very easily mistaken for that, this report is derived from a non scientific study. I too was inclined to think in those lines when I read the title. A careful reading however convinced me that, there could be genuine truth in their argument. After all, the conclusion is not on a single individual, but on a collection.
I am sure the wider picture of this report may have a scientific explanation too. Too much stress, at an earlier stage of life may prevent development of nerve cells. Bottom line is that, we simply do not want to take a risk. It isindeed very important that our children and future generations not to undergo that ill fate. We have a social responsibility to be aware of these and try to do a part to ease up the trouble, as much as we can.