Story at a glance

  • The study randomly selected 1,000 impoverished mothers and newborns in New York, New Orleans, the Twin Cities and Omaha.
  • The study employs a mobile EEG to keep track of and measure brain activity.
  • Researchers will also monitor the mother’s health, offering hormone level measurements, and they will interview the subjects to gauge the effects of the financial stimulus on the family’s well-being.

Researchers studying the relationship between wealth and lifetime achievement have upped the ante and are studying the way stimulated income might affect a child’s cognitive development.

Kimberly Noble, a neuroscientist at Columbia University, along with a cohort of researchers in Baby’s First Years, are studying the consequences of giving lower-income families payments similar to those offered by President Biden’s child tax credit, The New York Times reported.  

“It is definitely one of the first, if not the first” study in this developing field to have direct policy implications, Martha Farah, a director of the Center for Neuroscience and Society who studies poverty and the brain, told The Times.

Yet, according to Farah, policymakers could discount the data collected in the study. 

“Are there actionable insights we get by bringing neuroscience to bear, or are people just being snowed by pretty brain images and impressive-sounding words from neuroscience? It’s an important question,” she said.


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Critics like James Heckman, an economist at the University of Chicago, told the Times he doubted that the study would yield positive outcomes or, “even a hint that a policy would come out of it, other than to say, yes, there’s an imprint of a better economic life.”

The study employs a mobile EEG to keep track of and measure brain activity. Researchers will also monitor the mother’s health, offering hormone level measurements, and they will interview the subjects to gauge the effects of the financial stimulus on the family’s well-being. 

“None of us thinks income is the only answer,” Noble told the Times. “But with Baby’s First Years, we are moving past correlation to test whether reducing poverty directly causes changes in children’s cognitive, emotional and brain development.”

The study randomly selected 1,000 impoverished mothers and newborns in New York, New Orleans, the Twin Cities and Omaha. The families were given monthly debit cards amounting to $20 to $333 to be spent as the mothers saw fit, NYT reported. 

Biden’s plan offers $300 per child up to age 6 each month, with payments dipping to $250 for children aged 6 to 17. 

“It’s quite possible that the particular pathways to children’s outcomes differ across families,” Noble said. “So by empowering families to use the money as they see fit, it doesn’t presuppose a particular pathway or mechanism that leads to differences in child development.”


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Published on Apr 07, 2021