Neurologists have discovered that the way children are treated in their early years can have a remarkable impact on their brain development.
These two images are brain scans of two three-year-old children. The brain on the left is much bigger and contains fewer dark “fuzzy” areas and less spots, reports the UK’s Telegraph.
The brain on the right is less developed in some fundamental areas, and neurologists say that child will become an adult who is less intelligent, less empathetic and more likely to be unemployed or get involved in drugs and crime than the other child.
While first glance might have people assuming a serious accident or illness must be responsible for the huge discrepancies, the truth is that the child on the right was neglected and abused by its mother, while the child on the left was raised in a loving, supportive home.
Professor Allan Schore, from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) told the The Telegraph that babies rely on a strong bond with their mothers for healthy brain development in their first two years.
“The development of cerebral circuits depends on it,” he said.
And with 80 per cent of brain cells grown in the first two years of life –– problems in that development can affect people for life.
Dr Marc Seal, a research scientist at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, is doing similar research.
“If you deprive a child of affection and social contact and basic food, they will be stunted physically –– their brains will be smaller and so will their bodies,” he said.
“It becomes a cycle and people don’t achieve their potential.”
A previous study into children who lived in Romanian orphanages, which were notorious for neglect between the 1960s and 1980s, found they had changes in their DNA as a result of the stress.
“Starvation and deprivation of physical contact in their early years had a big impact,” Dr Seal said.
Now researchers are looking into the geneology of children who have suffered abuse.
“I work with an epi-geneticist, who looks at genes that switch on and off in environmental experiences. His research shows that there are experiences in the womb and early life that switch on and off genes,” Dr Seal said.
Dr Seal hopes larger studies will help pinpoint the exact reasons for the brain changes.
“We are getting lots of pieces of the puzzle at the moment,” he said.
“Children in unstable, stressful environments are also going to have poor diet and poor support. What we need is some good longitudinal studies because it’s hard to pull apart consequences and causes.”
Source: Health Hub