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Surprising Science

How Lead Exposure Warps the Mind

Studies show that exposure to lead decreases one’s ability to control impulsive behavior; some think the removal of lead from the American lifestyle has contributed to a falling crime rate. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Jonah Lehrer, over at his blog, says that neuroscientists have made important progress in recent years identifying the precise mechanisms by which lead exposure reduces impulse control. In one study from the Cincinnati area, scientists wrote that: “Childhood lead exposure is associated with region-specific reductions in adult gray matter volume. Affected regions include the portions of the prefrontal cortex and ACC responsible for executive functions, mood regulation, and decision-making.”

What’s the Big Idea?

While lead has been mostly removed from the American consumer experience, other chemicals remain, the danger lying in lax business regulation. Lehrer explains the tragedy of lead exposure: “It undermines one of the most essential mental skills we can give our kids, which is the ability to control what they’re thinking about. While the unconscious will always be full of impulses we can’t prevent, and the world will always be full of dangerous temptations, we don’t have to give in.”


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