Socioeconomic status and brain development: From science to policy
Walter H. Annenberg Professor of Natural Sciences
Director of the Center for Neuroscience & Society
University of Pennsylvania
Childhood socioeconomic status (SES) predicts many important life outcomes, from physical and mental health to academic achievement and cognitive ability. Why is SES so influential? Part of the answer lies in the relationship between SES and the brain. I will present research from my lab and others aimed at characterizing SES differences in brain structure and function. I will then discuss the causes of these associations – by what mechanisms are they linked? – and their consequences – what roles do they play in the health and achievement disparities mentioned earlier? Finally, I will consider whether and how the neuroscience of SES can help shape policies concerning children of low SES.
Martha Farah was born in New York City and educated at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard. She has taught at Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Pennsylvania, where she is currently the Walter H. Annenberg Professor of Natural Sciences. In 1999, she founded Penn’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, and ten years later, she founded the Center for Neuroscience & Society, which she still directs. Martha’s work on the ethical, legal and social impact of neuroscience (aka neuroethics) has focused on cognitive enhancement by normal individuals, including the question of whether drugs and devices believed to enhance normal cognition actually do so, and on nonclinical uses of brain imaging. Her other main interest is in the effects of early socioeconomic deprivation on brain development. She studies the latter using behavioral, neuroendocrine and neuroimaging methods. Martha is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a former Guggenheim Fellow and recipient of honors including the National Academy of Science’s Troland Research Award and the Association for Psychological Science’s lifetime achievement award.