Critical considerations about the use of poverty measures in the study of cognitive development

Sebastián J. Lipina
Published Online:
10 May 2016
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 52 Issue 3

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Developmental psychology and developmental cognitive neuroscience generated evidence at different levels of analysis about the influences of poverty on neurocognitive development (i.e., molecular, neural activation, cognition, behaviour). In addition, different individual and environmental factors were identified as mediators of such influences. Such a complexity is also illustrated through the many poverty conceptual and operational definitions generated by social, human and health sciences. However, to establish the causal relationships between the different factors of poverty and neurocognitive outcomes is still an issue under construction. Most studies of this area apply classic unidimensional poverty indicators such as income and maternal education. Nonetheless, this approach does not take into adequate consideration the variability of neurocognitive outcomes depending on the type of poverty measures, and the dynamic nature of changes during development. This creates a virtual underestimation of the complexity imposed by the involved mediating mechanisms. The scientific and policy implications of this underestimation include the risk of not adequately addressing children rights and developmental opportunities. This article proposes to explore such scenario, which is necessary for the reconsideration of the criteria used to analyse the influences of poverty on child development in general and neurocognitive development in particular.

© 2016 International Union of Psychological Science