Michael Thomas, Director of the CEN, recently chaired a symposium at the British Neuroscience Association Festival of Neuroscience on psychological perspectives on poverty. The symposium was convened and sponsored by the British Psychological Society. All of the 12-minute presentations from the symposium are available to view below.
Over the last decade, there has been an increasing amount of work in cognitive neuroscience applied to poverty. However, differences in socioeconomic status are very much a social and structural phenomenon, and the contribution of psychology and neuroscience therefore needs to be carefully contextualised. Moreover, research into poverty takes place against the backdrop of an urgent need to alleviate the consequences of poverty, particularly on children’s development, and to reduce inequality in society (gaps which have been exacerbated by the pandemic). Therefore, research in this area must be considered in relation to government policy.
In this symposium, we hear from five speakers, considering poverty from multiple angles. Sebastian Lipina (Unit of Applied Neurobiology UNA, CEMIC-CONICET, Buenos Aires, Argentina) begins by providing an overview of contemporary evidence from neuroscientific studies of childhood poverty, including mediating factors and the impact of the first generation of neuroscientific interventions.
Michael Thomas (Birkbeck, University of London, UK) then discusses the relationship between socioeconomic status and educational achievement, addressing the role of executive functions as a potential mediating factor, and considering what policymakers should take from recent evidence that poverty is associated with differences in children’s brain structure.
In the third talk, Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington (London School of Economics, UK) focuses on decision making in the context of poverty, and how apparently poor decision making – with respect to long-term educational, financial, and health outcomes – may be seen as an adaptive response to the challenges of economic hardship.
In the fourth talk, Philip Murphy (Edge Hill University) addresses the relationship between addiction and poverty, considering the role of addiction in creating a cycle that sustains poverty, and how neuroscience insights point to possible interventions.
In the final talk, Sophie Wickham (University of Liverpool, UK) establishes the links to policy, considering how policy decisions over the last decade have led to a rise in child poverty in the UK, and how a mental-health focus in future policy making could improve outcomes.