On a Saturday morning when my mind is foggy and my reflexes are slow after a harrowing ordeal of prepping for and MC-ing a legal ethics game show for the D.C. bar the day before, the sighting on a worthy Comment of the Day is a cause for relief and joy. Rich (in CT) offers yet another superb post, illuminating the complex issues behind a statement in my essay about the estate tax. Rich has an impressive record for COTDs in his relatively short time commenting on Ethics Alarms, but none of his masterpieces were more welcome than this, which allows me to go back to bed. You would not believe how long it took me to type this brief paragraph. (Thanks, Rich!)
Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Whistle On The Post’s Dana Milbank…So Blood Won’t Shoot Out My Nose.
“No one I have read has had the audacity to even suggest that the most logical conclusion may explain the phenomenon: unsuccessful people tend to be less intelligent than successful people…”
Among honest researchers, it is trivially obvious that unsuccessful people are less intelligent than the successful. What appears to be remarkable is the magnitude of the observable neural differences between those who are impoverished, and those who are not. The brain is an extremely malleable organ, and with care and proper education, can continue to grow new neurons throughout one’s life. Brain injuries, however, can impede (though not necessarily entirely prevent) new neural growth. That the researchers are seeing such dramatic differences would strongly suggest some sort of active damage is occurring to those growing up in poverty.
Brain health directly reflects on overall body health. Obesity, for instance, places greater strain on the heart, and thus affects blood flow to the brain. Cholesterol plaques that clog arteries can subtly interfere with oxygen and nutrient delivery to the brain. Diabetes, too, interferes with blood sugar, which interferes with properly powering the brain, which leads to less neural growth. Stress hormones, often exacerbated by poor health, affect the balance of hormones in the brain, affecting clarity of thought and impeding new neural connections; learning itself is more difficult under stress.
Given that those in poverty experience these health effects in greater proportion, it is really not a huge leap to conclude that nutrition and stress are the immediate cause of the relatively poor neural growth among those in poverty. I say the “immediate cause”, because stress and poor nutrition likely stem from lower intelligence and collective poor judgement among those who are unsuccessful.
For those who are in poverty, there is a vicious feedback loop that captures individuals in poverty. Fewer resources leads to poor nutrition and poor education; few resources leads to more work, leading to less time directly raising and stimulating creative play with children. Poor education leads to poor nutrition choices. Less time raising children plus poor education leads to poor habits being taught to children. Poor habits taught to children leads to culture rot. Culture rot leads to poverty.
The new study now suggests that “culture rot” may literally “rot” the brain!
Brain surface area is not directly indicative of intelligence or potential for success. The brain grows and shrinks in direct response to its environment. Thus it is not useful to say the poor have smaller brains because they are less intelligent; the lack of of intelligence could only be an indirect cause of the reduced neural development. However, efforts to improve the intelligence by improving the culture may have a dramatic effect on neural health. Improved neural health may also have a dramatic effect on the culture; a positive feedback loop!
What interventions would be helpful in reforming the culture of poverty remain to be seen. Depression era families, financially poor but culturally rich, might be a precedent to look into…