Este es el blog del grupo de trabajo de la Unidad de Neurobiología Aplicada (UNA, CEMIC-CONICET), que trabaja en el área de pobreza infantil y desarrollo cognitivo. Además de encontrar material sobre el trabajo del grupo, el visitante tendrá oportunidad de interactuar con sus integrantes, acceder a información y comentar las entradas sobre los diferentes temas asociados al área de investigación.

This is the blog of a research group in the Unit of Applied Neurobiology (UNA, CEMIC-CONICET), who works in the area of child poverty and cognitive development. In addition to finding material on the group's research work, visitors will also have the opportunity to interact with its members, have access to information, and comment on entries on various topics related to the research in the area of interest.

Regarding the use and interpretation of the neuroscientific evidence in poverty studies / Acerca del uso y la interpretación de la evidencia neurocientífica en los estudios de pobreza

El 6 de junio de 2017, se realizó el quinto encuentro de la Red de Investigación Biosocial (Symbioses) en la New School de la ciudad de Nueva York. A continuación se transcribe la presentación que allí realizó Sebastián J. Lipina en una mesa redonda sobre neurociencia y pobreza.

"I would like to highlight some of the differences that exist between the version of neuroscience that is made by those who generate the evidence (i.e., the neuroscientific community) and those who consume, apply or use it in other contexts.

Based on what is being generating in the literature, I consider that the contemporary field of the neuroscientific studies on poverty:

(a) Is not re-inscribing the cultural onto neural differences.

(b) Is not proposing fit or unfit normative aims of development, but the optimization of those neural adaptive skills that can contribute with the achievement of rights and wellbeing during the life cycle.

(c) Is not considering that evidence necessarily implies immutable or fixed processes during the life cycle.

(d) And importantly, is open to contribute with interdisciplinary efforts that could help to understand the complexity of poverty and human development, what eventually could inform policy.

Let me expand some of these statements.

From the perspective of the people who make it:

(1) Neuroscience is not proposing a biological definition of poverty. We work in a rationale, which consider the biological level of analysis as complementary to many others including the behavioral, social and cultural ones. We based our study designs and interpretation of findings in the current developmental science insights of development, what implies that the processes of development and poverty are complex, multi-determined, and characterized by the dynamic and muliti-directional relationships of events across the life cycle. In such a conceptual context, it is impossible for us to reduce the complexity of poverty to the biological level of analysis.

(2) The neuroscientific evidence matters. In such epistemological and conceptual complex context, we interpret the findings as if poverty shapes neural processes in a way that could put the individuals in the risk of develop their cognitive and emotional potentialities to deal with the adaptation to their social and cultural environments. We are still working in the design of adequate studies that could help us to improve our understanding of the long-term consequences of early influences of poverty on the Nervous System, both in health and cognition. For instance, the evidence from animal and human studies support the hypothesis that poverty increases allostatic load what leads with several silent morbidities, which involve the immune and cardiovascular systems, what in turn can reduce the quality and expectancy of life. Some of us interpret this as a potential violation of basic human rights that contradict the constitutional principles in many countries in the world, as for example in my own.

(3) The neuroscientific evidence is promissory but preliminary to inform policy. The neuroscientific approach to poverty has initiated its first studies around 15 years ago. Although there are some potential recommendations that could be of interest for policymakers -as for example, take in consideration the development of basic physiological processes involved in nutrition, sleep, physical activity, and stress regulation-, the evidence cannot sustain statements about the existence of unique early sensitive periods, as a principal determinant, which can necessarily generate immutable consequences in adulthood wellbeing and skills. Actually, the available evidence of intervention studies -both in developmental psychology and neuroscience- shows that it is possible to modify the trajectories of self-regulatory development through adequate, high quality and sustained multimodular interventions. This means that we need to discuss and debate this evidence in terms of social responsibility about the caring of those congeners that cannot have access to policies that could guarantee their rights of health, education and work inclusion. We consider that the neuroscientific studies on poverty, can contribute in a complementary way with others disciplines, to these debates. In any case, many of us consider that we have to learn and work more in how inform the findings in the complex context of policy design, implementation and evaluation.

From the perspective of the people who consume the neuroscience:

(1) Several policy makers and childcare advocates in different countries have been proposing early neural development as a principal determinant of an entrepreneurial and healthy workforce. In such an approach -that is inscribed in the Human Capital Theory, as it was propose by the economist Gary Becker-, it is possible to find statements that sustain the early years as a unique sensitive period for neural organization that determines many adulthood skills in an immutable form. This line of thinking has its roots in proposals that the individual is positioned to a market of behaviors and information, where s/he optimizes her/his own behavior and knowledge by accumulating those to make him or her more desirable on the market.

(2) I consider that this does not necessarily mean that capabilities are not a potential productive construct to explore in the studies of poverty. In this sense, the approaches made in the same area by Amartya Sen about the capabilities to convert human rights in freedom of access to specific policies, still deserves to be considered. Actually, I interpret the efforts that developmental science is making to foster self-regulatory skills during childhood in poverty contexts, as a mean of increasing self-determination and of building consciousness of being a subject of right, and eventually collective processes aimed at contributing with wellbeing, participation and social inclusion of people".