First-Rank Peer-Reviewed Publishing: It’s TC’s Nature | Teachers College Columbia University

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First-Rank Peer-Reviewed Publishing: It’s TC’s Nature

In articles on perhaps the three most pervasive challenges facing humankind – war, poverty and climate change – the work of three TC faculty appeared this year in Nature, considered one of the world’s leading journals devoted to science and medicine.


In a study published in March in Nature Neuroscience, Kimberly Noble, Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Education in TC’s Department of Biobehavioral Sciences. , found that family income is associated with children’s brain structure – and that the association appears to be strongest among children from lower-income families.

In a sample of more than 1,000 typically developing children and adolescents between three and 20 years old, a group led by Noble and Elizabeth Sowell, Professor of Pediatrics at The Saban Research Institute at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, found that increases in both parental education and family income were associated with increases in the surface area of numerous brain regions, including those implicated in language and executive functions. Family income appeared to have a stronger, positive relationship with brain surface area than parental education.

“We can’t say if the brain and cognitive differences we observed are causally linked to income disparities,” said Noble, who currently is both a TC Visiting Professor and Director of the Neurocognition, Early Experience and Development Lab of Columbia University Medical Center, but will join TC’s faculty as “But if so, policies that target poorest families would have the largest impact on brain development.”

Noble and a team of esteemed social scientists and neuroscientists are now conducting a study in which mothers are given large or small monthly income payments for the first three years after their children are born. Ultimately they hope to recruit 1,000 mothers, half of whom would receive $4,000 per year ($333 per month), and half of whom would receive just $240 per year ($20 per month), a difference that is on par with the amount of the earned income tax credit.  

“If the children of mothers receiving larger payments show beneficial effects on brain function, it would be a step toward refuting the argument that poverty is a symptom, not a cause, and that wealthier parents are wealthy because they possess -- and pass on -- traits of self-discipline, determination and resilience,” Noble said. “By identifying how income affects early child development, we hope to inform anti-poverty policies that better support children’s well-being.”

Noble’s work was cited in a New York Times editorial by Nicholas Kristof calling for  a shift in attention from K-12 reform to pre-K and younger.


‌Also in March, in an article titled Conflict resolution: Wars without end, Nature spotlightedwork by Peter Coleman, Professor of Psychology and Education, and Director of TC’s Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution, to understand persistent violent conflict in nations such as Colombia, Sri Lanka and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Working with two social psychologists, Robin Vallacher and Andrzej Nowak, Coleman has applied dynamical systems theory, which looks beyond single causes to understand a complex web of factors. Coleman, who is also Co-Director of the Advanced Consortium for Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity (AC4) at The Earth Institute at Columbia University, is the author of The Five Percent: Finding Solutions to (Seemingly) Impossible Conflicts (2011).


‌And in a study published in April on the Nature Climate Change website, Jason S. Wu, a TC doctoral student in Science Education, and Joey J. Lee, Research Assistant Professor and Director of the Real-World Impact Games Lab in TC's Department of Math, Science And Technology, reported  that digital games are effective in educating and engaging the public in the subject of climate change.

Wu and Lee write that there has been a “dramatic increase” in the development of games featuring innovative designs that blur traditional boundaries – for example, those that involve social media, alternative reality games, or those that involve direct action upon the real world).

Games allow players to “simulate complex models or provide a level of control that is not possible in the real world,” they write. “This is particularly advantageous when dealing with global atmospheric systems that would be otherwise difficult to bring to a hands-on level.” They conclude that “games are uniquely suited to get people to understand, care about and take action on climate issues” because they can "serve as engaging tools that allow players to experience the complexities of climate systems [and] provide interactive models where players participate in decisions affecting climate change and immediately see the resulting outcomes."

Published Monday, Nov. 2, 2015

Kimberly Noble
Kimberly Noble, Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Education
Peter Coleman
Peter Coleman, Professor of Psychology and Education
Joey Lee
Joey J. Lee, Research Assistant Professor

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