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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 23, Issue 4

Stress Relief Can Be the Key to Success in School

Stress may be silently sabotaging success in school. Its effects are especially potent for children in poverty



SALLY ANSCOMBE Getty Images

Stress can be toxic at any age. It rattles us when it strikes, shaking up our relationships and narrowing our focus. When it becomes chronic, it ravages our health. Physically, emotionally and intellectually, stress can drag us down.

An even more insidious effect is the assault it can launch on a child's brain, impeding the development of critical cognitive skills. A number of researchers, including myself, have discovered that psychological stress affects the thinking skills and brain development of even very young children, likely beginning prenatally. It is no mystery that stress thrives in difficult situations, but research is now showing that a disadvantaged upbringing may set back children in profound, lasting ways. In fact, stress may be one important mechanism through which poverty adversely affects children's ability to perform well in school.

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