Learning & exposure: Is it true that poor can’t learn!

Over the past several decades, research has documented strong relationships between social class and
children’s cognitive abilities. These initial cognitive differences, which are substantial at school entry, increase
as children progress through school. Despite the robust findings associated with this research, authors have
generally neglected the extent to which school absenteeism exacerbates social class differences in academic
development among young children. Using growth-curve analyses within a three-level hierarchical linear
modeling framework, this study employs data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS-K) to
examine the links between children’s social class, school absences, and academic growth during kindergarten
and first grade. Results suggest that the effects of schooling on cognitive development are stronger for lower
socioeconomic status (SES) children and that the findings associated with theories of summer learning loss are
applicable to literacy development during early elementary school. Indeed, although they continue to achieve at
lower absolute levels, socioeconomically disadvantaged children who have good attendance rates gain more
literacy skills than their higher SES peers during kindergarten and first grade.

Stressful life events can have profound effects on our cognitive and motor abilities, from those that could be
construed as adaptive to those not so. In this review, I discuss the general notion that acute stressful
experience necessarily impairs our abilities to learn and remember. The effects of stress on operant
conditioning, that is, learned helplessness, as well as those on classical conditioning procedures are discussed
in the context of performance and adaptation. Studies indicating sex differences in learning during stressful
times are discussed, as are those attributing different responses to the existence of multiple memory systems
and nonlinear relationships. The intent of this review is to highlight the apparent plasticity of the stress
response, how it might have evolved to affect both performance and learning processes, and the potential
problems with interpreting stress effects on learning as either good or bad. An appreciation for its plasticity may
provide new avenues for investigating its underlying neuronal mechanisms.

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