According to a new study from the University of California in Berkeley, poverty can negatively affect certain brain functions in low-income youth—almost similar to brain damage from a stroke. Researchers used an electroencephalograph (EEG) to measure the brain function of 26 children and found serious differences in low-income children’s prefrontal cortexes—an area of the brain that controls problem solving—compared with those of wealthy children’s.

“This suggests that in these kids, prefrontal function is reduced or disrupted in some way,” said Mark Kishiyama, MD, a lead researcher in the study and a cognitive psychologist.

Researchers cited the toxic environments created by malnutrition, stress and illiteracy as reasons for these findings. But the good news is that some of these effects are reversible—focused lessons and games that encourage children to think out loud can help.