Twelfth International Summer School on Mind, Brain and Education

2017 September 1–7

Neuroscience of poverty

Director of the School: Antonio M. Battro
Director of the Course: Sebastián J. Lipina
Codirectors of the Course: Eric Pakulak, María Soledad Segretin
Management Assistance of the Course: Matías Lopez-Rosenfeld
Program Officer of the School: Lula Majdalani

Pakulak, Eric
University of Oregon, USA

Eric Pakulak is the Acting Director of the Brain Development Lab (BDL) at the University of Oregon. His Ph.D. is in Psychology with an emphasis on cognitive neuroscience, and he also holds degrees in Linguistics and Russian. His primary research interest is the development, implementation, and assessment of evidence-based training programs that simultaneously target at-risk children and their parents (two-generation approaches). Related research interests include the neuroplasticity of brain systems important for language and attention and the effects of early adversity on neural organization for these systems. He explores these questions in both children and adults using techniques to measure brain function and stress physiology. Currently Dr. Pakulak is closely involved in several ongoing lines of research on a two-generation program developed in the BDL, including cultural adaptation, scale-up for broader implementation, and broader assessment of outcomes in both children and parents.


From neuroscience to education: Development, implementation, and assessment of a successful two-generation intervention
For several years we have employed multiple neuroimaging techniques to study the development and plasticity of the human brain. Over the course of this research we have observed that different brain systems and related functions display markedly different degrees or 'profiles' of neuroplasticity, or the degree to which these systems are changeable and vulnerable. I will describe how we study the brain in young children and adults, and these basic findings. Guided by these findings, we developed a two-generation training program for 3-5 year old children who are at-risk for school failure for reasons of poverty. This training program is focused on attention, language, stress regulation, and emotional regulation, and involves an integrated program for children and parents with child attention training activities and eight weekly two-hour parent groups. I will discuss previous work in which we have shown that, relative to two comparison groups, parents in the program demonstrate reduced parenting stress, and children in the program display significant improvements in cognition, parent-reported child behaviors, and brain functions supporting selective attention. I will then discuss our current work in this line of research, which involves the development, implementation, and assessment of a delivery model of the program designed for broader implementation and sustainability in preschool settings. This model features increased integration between the child and parent programs, and improved assessments include measures of stress physiology and brain function for attention and self-regulation in both children and parents. These results lend impetus to the further development and broader deployment of evidence-based education programs that target at-risk families to reduce academic achievement gaps.