"The idea that the brain is somehow fixed in early childhood, which was an idea that was very strongly believed up until fairly recently, is completely wrong. There's no evidence that the brain is somehow set and can't change after early childhood. In fact, it goes through this very large development throughout adolescence and right into the 20s and 30s, and even after that it's plastic forever, the plasticity is a baseline state, no matter how old you are. That has implications for things like intervention programs and educational programs for teenagers."
Sarah-Jayne Blakemore is a leading social neuroscientist of adolescent development. She has reawakened research interest into the puberty period by focusing on social cognition and its neural underpinnings.
What role do early childhood experiences in nearby nature play in the formation of brain architecture? It’s time for science to ask that question.
In January, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof reported on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ “landmark warning that toxic stress can harm children for life.” This was, he wrote, a “’policy statement’ from the premier association of pediatricians, based on two decades of scientific research,” and he added that the statement “has revolutionary implications for medicine and for how we can more effectively chip away at poverty and crime.”
From conception through early childhood, brain architecture is particularly malleable and influenced by environment and relationships with primary caregivers, including toxic stress caused by abuse or chronic neglect. By interfering with healthy brain development, such stress can undermine the cognitive skills and health of a child, leading to learning difficulty and behavior problems, as well as psychological and behavior problems, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other physical ailments later in life.
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