Scientists say active early learning shapes the adult brain
An enhanced learning environment during the first five years of life shapes the brain in ways that are apparent four decades later, say scientists writing in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

The researchers used structural brain imaging to detect the developmental effects of linguistic and cognitive stimulation starting at six weeks of age in infants.

The study follows children who have continuously participated in the Abecedarian Project in 1971 to study the effects of educational, social, health, and family support services on high-risk infants. Both the comparison and treatment groups received extra health care, nutrition, and family support services; however, beginning at six weeks of age, the treatment group also received five years of high-quality educational support, five days a week, 50 weeks a year.

When scanned, the Abecedarian study participants were in their late 30s to early 40s, offering the researchers a unique look at how childhood factors affect the adult brain. "The new results reveal that biological effects accompany the many behavioral, social, health, and economic benefits reported in the Abecedarian Project. This affirms the idea that positive early life experiences contribute to later positive adjustment through a combination of behavioral, social, and brain pathways."

The researchers determined that those in the early education treatment group had increased the size of the whole brain, including the cortex.

"We believe that these findings warrant careful consideration and lend further support to the value of ensuring positive learning and social-emotional support for all children—particularly to improve outcomes for children who are vulnerable to inadequate stimulation and care in the early years of life."

Source: https://doi.org/10.1162/jocn_a_01709
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