Jan. 24 (UPI) — One-year-olds whose mothers received large monthly cash gifts showed signs of increased brain activity crucial to learning and development compared to those whose families received smaller payments, a study published Monday found.
The children whose mothers received monthly gifts of $333, distributed via debit cards, had more evidence of brain-wave activity as measured by electroencephalography, or EEG, according to the study, which appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
This is compared to similarly aged children whose mothers were given $20 monthly gifts in the same way, the researchers said.
“We have known for many years that growing up in poverty puts children at risk for lower school achievement, reduced earnings and poorer health,” study co-author Kimberly Noble said in a press release.
“We know that the $333 per month must have changed children’s experiences or environments, and that their brains adapted to those changed circumstances,” said Noble, a professor of neuroscience and education at Columbia University Teachers College in New York City.
Previous research has shown that living in poverty has negative effects on child development and brain performance.
The researchers in this study measured brain activity among 435 1-year-old children who were participating in the Baby’s First Years study, an ongoing assessment of poverty-reduction initiatives.
The study recruited 1,000 mothers with low incomes from postpartum wards in a dozen hospitals in New Orleans, New York City, Omaha and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
The researchers began to plan the study in 2012, long before the Biden Administration’s one-year expansion of the Child Tax Credit, which expired in December and provided $250 to $300 per month per child for most families.
Shortly after giving birth, participating mothers received monthly cash gifts of either $333 or $20, disbursed on debit cards, the researchers said.
Participating mothers were free to spend the cash gifts in whatever way they chose, with no strings attached, according to the researchers.
Participants will continue to receive the cash gifts, funded by charitable foundations, until their children are 4 years, 4 months old, they said.
After one year of monthly cash support, infants in low-income families who received the higher amount were more likely to show brain activity patterns that have been associated with the development of thinking and learning than those given the smaller amount, the data showed.
Brain activity was measured using EEG, a technique in which a cap is placed on an infant’s head and used to record electrical waves, or brainwaves, the researchers said.
Past research has linked high-frequency, or fast, brain activity with the development of thinking and learning, they said.
It is unclear whether the differences in brain activity will persist over time, or whether they will lead to differences in children’s cognitive or behavioral development, which will be measured in future waves of the study, according to the researchers.
The researchers also plan to investigate whether how mothers spent the money had any effect and how having more money may have changed parenting behaviors, family relationships and family stress, they said.
“We hear from the mothers in our study how challenging it is to raise children without enough money,” study co-author Katherine Magnuson said in a press release.
“A few hundred dollars a month has the potential to do a lot of good for these families,” said Magnuson, director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.