Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Dartmouth study shows difference in cognitive ability between low-income rural, urban children


Public release date: 14-Oct-2013

Contact: Shea Drefs
Dartmouth College

Kids in rural poverty score lower on visual, higher on verbal tests of working memory than urban counterparts

Studies have long shown a difference in cognitive ability between high- and low-income children, but for the first time, scientists have found a difference between low-income children growing up in rural areas and those growing up in urban environments.

Researchers at Dartmouth College have found that children growing up in rural poverty score significantly lower on visual working memory tests than their urban counterparts. However, children in urban poverty score slightly lower on tests of verbal working memory.

Working memory is the ability to keep information in mind while using that information to complete a task. It is a better predictor of academic success than IQ and is crucial to skills as diverse as reading, math processing, and decision making.

The results of the Dartmouth study appear online in the Journal of Cognition and Development and will be included in the journal's next print edition. A PDF is available now upon request.


For example, rural areas tend to have less noise pollution than urban ones, and chronic noise pollution has been shown to hurt verbal working memory. On the other hand, rural areas lack visual stimuli common in cities – such as traffic, crowds, and signs – and this may give rural children less opportunity to develop their visual working memory, Tine surmises.

Prior research has shown environmental factors do not impact the cognitive ability of high-income children as much as low-income children, which is consistent with Tine's finding that wealthy children had almost identical working memory abilities, regardless of whether they lived in urban or rural environments.

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