Saturday, April 4, 2009

Stress and Education

I ran into this article in the Economist today. It seems like it could have interesting implications if the concept holds up to further scrutiny. Essentially they are arguing that stress levels decide how intelligent children turn out to be:

That stress, and stress alone, is responsible for damaging the working memories of poor children thus looks like a strong hypothesis. It is also backed up by work done on both people and laboratory animals, which shows that stress changes the activity of neurotransmitters, the chemicals that carry signals from one nerve cell to another in the brain. Stress also suppresses the generation of new nerve cells in the brain, and causes the “remodelling” of existing ones. Most significantly of all, it shrinks the volume of the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. These are the parts of the brain most closely associated with working memory.

If true that seems like it may have huge implications for the education profession. If the most important thing that can be done for young children is keeping them in a low stress environment could all that testing actually be causing more problems? I of course would want to see some study on this subject before making any conclusions as the home environment may be the much more stressful place but it could be an interesting line of research.

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