A newly-released study “The impact of a poverty reduction intervention on infant brain activity” by Toller-Renfree et. al., shows an important connection between cash assistance and brain development. A group of university-based researchers ere, attempted to estimate of the causal impact of a poverty reduction intervention on brain activity in the first year of life. They drew data from a subsample of the Baby’s First Years study, which recruited 1,000 diverse low-income mother–infant.

The authors say, “This study demonstrates the causal impact of a poverty reduction intervention on early childhood brain activity. Data from the Baby’s First Years study, a randomized control trial, show that a predictable, monthly unconditional cash transfer given to low-income families may have a causal impact on infant brain activity. In the context of greater economic resources, children’s experiences changed, and their brain activity adapted to those experiences. The resultant brain activity patterns have been shown to be associated with the development of subsequent cognitive skills.”

The study comes at a time when debates are ranging over the importance and impact of financial support that lifts families out of poverty (CTC).

The authors analyzed 435 infant’s whose mother’s average household income the year before birth was $20,000. The methods of the study included giving participants mothers cash gifts either nominal ($20/month) or high ($333/month) that on average equaled a 20% boost in household income over one year. Researchers then analyzed the electroencephalography (EEG)-brain activity. Childhood EEG-based brain activity demonstrates a specific developmental pattern.

Results of the EEG showed three of the frequency bands were uniformly higher in the high cash gift group displaying “higher power values” over low cash groups. The significance of the recorded neuroactivity in these frequency bands have been correlated with higher language, social-emotional, and cognitive scores in late childhood/adolescences.

To learn more about the study and its implications for policy and child welfare, please join the authors, Sonya Troller-Renfree, Greg Duncan, and Brenda Jones-Harden, for a webinar hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Institute for Research on Poverty: Wednesday February 9th, 2022, from 2-3 pm ET. Register here.