The study aimed to collect data on brain activity from children ages 1 and 3 during home visits, and researchers managed to get the first set of data for about two-thirds of the children before the pandemic broke out. Since home visits are still unsustainable, they have extended the study to age 4 and will collect the second set of brain data next year instead of this year.
The pandemic, as well as the two stimulus payments most Americans received last year, undoubtedly affected participating families in different ways, as did this year’s economic reviews and new monthly payments. However, because the study is randomized, the researchers still expect to be able to assess the effects of the monetary gift, said Dr. Noble.
The baby’s first years are seen as a bold effort to prove a causal link between poverty alleviation and brain development through a randomized study. “It is definitely one of the first, if not the first” study in this developing area to have direct policy implications, said Martha Farah, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Center for Neuroscience and Society dealing with Poverty and poverty concern the brain.
However, Professor Farah admits that social scientists and policymakers often ignore the relevance of brain data. “Are there any actionable insights that we get when we bring neuroscience to fruition, or are people just being snowed in with pretty brain pictures and impressive-sounding words from neuroscience? That’s an important question, ”she said.
Skeptics abound. James Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at the University of Chicago who studies inequality and social mobility, said he didn’t even see any indication that politics would emerge from it except to say, yes, there is an imprint of a better economic life. “
“And there still remains a question of what the actual mechanism is,” he said, adding that directing such a mechanism could be both cheaper and more effective.
Samuel Hammond, director of poverty and welfare at the Niskanen Center, who worked on Senator Mitt Romney’s proposal on child support, agrees that it is difficult to pinpoint the source of all observed cognitive benefits. “I’m having trouble unraveling the interventions that actually help the most,” he said. For example, policy experts are discussing whether certain childcare programs will benefit a child’s brain directly or whether it will simply give up their caregiver to find a job and increase family incomes, he said.