The impact of a poverty reduction intervention on infant brain activity

Sonya V. Troller-Renfree, Molly A. Costanzo, Greg J. Duncan, Katherine Magnuson, Lisa A. Gennetian, Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Sarah Halpern-Meekin, Nathan A. Fox, Kimberly G. Noble

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Early childhood poverty is a risk factor for lower school achievement, reduced earnings, and poorer health, and has been associated with differences in brain structure and function. Whether poverty causes differences in neurodevelopment, or is merely associated with factors that cause such differences, remains unclear. Here, we report estimates of the causal impact of a poverty reduction intervention on brain activity in the first year of life.We draw data from a subsample of the Baby's First Years study, which recruited 1,000 diverse lowincome mother-infant dyads. Shortly after giving birth, mothers were randomized to receive either a large or nominal monthly unconditional cash gift. Infant brain activity was assessed at approximately 1 y of age in the child's home, using resting electroencephalography (EEG; n = 435). We hypothesized that infants in the high-cash gift group would have greater EEG power in the mid- to high-frequency bands and reduced power in a low-frequency band compared with infants in the low-cash gift group. Indeed, infants in the high-cash gift group showed more power in high-frequency bands. Effect sizes were similar in magnitude to many scalable education interventions, although the significance of estimates varied with the analytic specification. In sum, using a rigorous randomized design, we provide evidence that giving monthly unconditional cash transfers to mothers experiencing poverty in the first year of their children's lives may change infant brain activity. Such changes reflect neuroplasticity and environmental adaptation and display a pattern that has been associated with the development of subsequent cognitive skills.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2115649119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number5
StatePublished - Feb 1 2022


  • EEG
  • Infant brain activity
  • Poverty
  • Randomized control trial
  • Unconditional cash transfer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'The impact of a poverty reduction intervention on infant brain activity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this