Experts say growing up in an impoverished neighbourhood may be bad for kids' brains.

US scientists have analysed 11,875 American children aged nine or ten and found living in a deprived neighbourhood was linked to lower scores in tests of thinking and lower brain volume in the prefrontal regions of the brain.

These regions are important in speech, memory and understanding others. Changes were also seen in the hippocampus, an important area for learning and memory.

Even children from wealthier families living in poor neighbourhoods showed the effects when compared with children who lived in more affluent communities, the researchers say.

Although this type of study cannot show that living in a poorer neighbourhood actually caused the differences seen in the children's brains and thinking, the researchers say it suggests an important role for our surroundings during childhood in shaping the brain and our cognitive abilities.

The association between poverty and unfavourable cognitive outcomes is fairly strong, but most research has focused on individual household socioeconomic status (SES).

The new study provides evidence that neighbourhood context explains unique variance not accounted for by household SES.

The study is accessible here.