The promise and pitfalls of a strength-based approach to child poverty and neurocognitive development: Implications for policy

Meriah L. DeJoseph*, Monica E. Ellwood-Lowe*, Dana Miller-Cotto, David Silverman, Katherine Adams Shannon, Gabriel Reyes, Divyangana Rakesh, Willem E. Frankenhuis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There has been significant progress in understanding the effects of childhood poverty on neurocognitive development. This progress has captured the attention of policymakers and promoted progressive policy reform. However, the prevailing emphasis on the harms associated with childhood poverty may have inadvertently perpetuated a deficit-based narrative, focused on the presumed shortcomings of children and families in poverty. This focus can have unintended consequences for policy (e.g., overlooking strengths) as well as public discourse (e.g., focusing on individual rather than systemic factors). Here, we join scientists across disciplines in arguing for a more well-rounded, “strength-based” approach, which incorporates the positive and/or adaptive developmental responses to experiences of social disadvantage. Specifically, we first show the value of this approach in understanding normative brain development across diverse human environments. We then highlight its application to educational and social policy, explore pitfalls and ethical considerations, and offer practical solutions to conducting strength-based research responsibly. Our paper re-ignites old and recent calls for a strength-based paradigm shift, with a focus on its application to developmental cognitive neuroscience. We also offer a unique perspective from a new generation of early-career researchers engaged in this work, several of whom themselves have grown up in conditions of poverty. Ultimately, we argue that a balanced strength-based scientific approach will be essential to building more effective policies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101375
JournalDevelopmental Cognitive Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024


  • Child poverty
  • Neurocognitive development
  • Policy
  • Strength-based approach


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