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Familial poverty affects the toddlers’ brain functioning, according to a study

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A research carried out by the University of Granada reveals that toddlers raised in families with lower educational and resource levels present a more immature brain functioning and less ability for detecting errors

Scientists warn of the need of alleviating educational and economic inequalities in pursuit of the proper development of the kids

A study carried out by the University of Granada (UGR) has revealed that familial poverty has an impact on the toddlers’ brain functioning. Infants belonging to families with lower economic resources and a lower level of education present a more immature functioning and less ability to detect errors.

This study counted with the participation of a total of 88 toddlers of 16 months of age. They had to observe how someone made a series of simple puzzles with which they had been previously familiarized.

Researchers measured the response of their brain by a high-density electroencephalogram, both when the puzzles were correctly completed and when they were incorrectly completed (for example, the legs and body of a chick with the head of an elephant).

As Charo Rueda, from the Department of Experimental Psychology of the UGR and lead author of this paper, explains, “the brain response when observing errors is well characterized in adults, and it’s an excellent measure of the brain system related to attention and learning”.

The research shows that the brain reaction of 16-month-old babies is very similar to that of adults with the same task, “which allows us to measure the efficacy of the attentional brain system in preverbal infants. This is important because this protocol may be of use for detecting early risks in the development of attention problems”, says Rueda.

However, the study has a second, even more interesting aspect: it establishes, for the first time, a relationship between the socioeconomic status of the family and the performance of the toddler’s brain when detecting errors. This is important, “since it shows that the parenting environment (educational and resource poverty) has an impact on the children’s brain functioning, early on”.

Thus, the results indicate that the brain of toddlers raised in families with lower levels of education and resources show a more immature functioning. “This result highlights the impact that poverty may have on early brain development and the need to alleviate educational and economic inequalities for the proper development of the children”, Rueda concludes.

Bibliographic references:

Frontal theta activation associated with error detection in toddlers: influence of familial socioeconomic status

Ángela Conejero, Sonia Guerra, Alicia Abundis-Gutiérrez, M. Rosario Rueda

Developmental Science 2016; 1–11

DOI: 10.1111/desc.12494


1. A kid and a toddler on a road near Rishikesh (India).

image0012. One of the babies who participated in the study.


3. UGR researcher Charo Rueda, lead author of this paper.


Charo Rueda Cuerva

Department of Experimental Psychology, UGR

Telephone: (+34) 958 249 609