A new finding from an ongoing randomized study known as Baby's First Year suggests that giving predictable and consistent amounts of cash to mothers in low-income life circumstances can help the development of their babies' brains in a positive way.

The study is known as Baby's First Year, and the newest research was published in Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

It's long been known that childhood poverty and brain development are intricately linked, particularly in the first two years of a baby's life. In numerous studies, family income is linked to brain development in children. But this research is the first to show that direct intervention with cash infusion can make a difference in the development changes of a baby in the first year.

The research is attempting to see how poverty reduction could impact emotional and cognitive growth in young children, primarily in their first two years of life.

Dr. Kimberly Noble is a neuroscientist from Columbia University. Of the work, she says,

"We have known for many years that growing up in poverty puts children at risk for lower school achievement, reduced earnings, and poorer health. However, until now, we haven't been able to say whether poverty itself causes differences in child development, or whether growing up in poverty is simply associated with other factors that cause those differences."
The study recruited 1000 low-income mothers in the US, all shortly after their babies were born. Because of the pandemic, only 435 families could participate in person, giving researchers the ability to measure the brain activity of the babies. The mothers came from either New York City, New Orleans, Omaha or Minneapolis/St. Paul, and were given different amounts of cash payments a month for the first four years of their baby's life. The random allocation gave either $333 or $20 a month. There were no conditions for the money; no instructions on what to do with it or requirements for anything to be done to get it.

Even with a smaller sample size, the data found that giving low-income moms financial support can change their infant's brain activity directly in the first year of their life.

The babies of mothers who were given higher dollar amounts had higher brain frequency activity than those babies who'd received the lesser amounts.

Obviously, further research needs to be done to see if the brain activity changes translate to cognitive development improvement, but the research suggests that there is other small studies have shown that high-frequency brain activity is more common in babies who are born into higher-income families. Research continues to suggest that higher language, cognitive and social-emotional scores are often better in those children born to higher-income families, though not always is the relationship consistent.

Dr. Noble is clear to say that all healthy brains are shaped by their environments and experiences, and not just that one group has a better brain base than the other. But, because of the randomized feature of the research, they knew the $333 a month had to have changed the children's environments, experiences and even foods, and the babies' brains adapted to those changes in positive ways.

The researchers are now looking at how household expenditures, parental behaviors, family relationships, or family stress could have affected the results.

Greg Duncan is an economist from the University of California-Irvine. Of the research, he said the differences in the two groups was
"Similar in magnitude to those reported in large-scale education interventions,"
The authors of the study hope the information continues to fuel better policies for interventions for poverty, as it's vital that children are placed at the center of the interventions for the good of their brains and society. While debates often occur over how to better take care of lower-income mothers, it's important to look at policies for how to better take care of babies as well, as that affects children's development for a lifetime.