Infant Brain Development

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  • 1. Infant Brain Development The Unfinished Brain
  • 2. The Infinite Array
    • The brain and nervous system contain billions of interconnected neurons.
    • Neurons form trillions of connections and the pathways.
    • The number and organization of these connections influence everything, from the ability to recognize letters to the maintenance of relationships.
  • 3. Making Connections
    • Neurons develop rapidly before birth.
    • At birth, infants have all, or most, of the brain cells they will ever have.
    • Connections or "wiring" between these cells is incomplete - connections have to be built.
    • Between birth and 8 months synapses form rapidly.
    • One neuron can connect with 15,000 other neurons.
    • In the first 3 months of life, the synapses multiply more than 20 times. 
    • At 3 months, the baby has more than 1,000 trillion synapses.
  • 4. Brain Plasticity in Early Childhood
    • Connections are made permanent from early infancy to early childhood
    • As we mature, the brain physically changes due to outside experiences.
    • The first three years see the most rapid changes due to the bombardment of experience (everything is new!).
    • At this time, the brain is most flexible and prepared to learn. (plasticity)
  • 5. Pruning
    • Connections that are not used are removed by " pruning "
    • After the first birthday, pruning occurs more quickly.
    • A 3-year-old child has twice as many connections as an adult. 
    • By 10 years, a child has nearly 500 trillion synapses, which is the same as the average adult.
  • 6. Experience Builds Connections
    • Early childhood experiences physically determine how the brain is "wired."
    • Early sensory experiences create new synapses.
    • Repetition of experiences strengthen them.
    • The number of connections can go up or down by 25 % or more, depending on the enrichment of the environment.
    • Those synapses that aren't used are pruned.
  • 7. Window of Opportunity
    • At about age 10, the brain begins to dramatically prune extra connections and make order of the tangled circuitry of the brain.
    • Pruning occurs for about 12 years but the brain maintains flexibility for future learning
    • New synapses grow throughout life
    • Adults continue to learn, but they do not master new skills so quickly
    • Learning language is an example of this principle.
  • 8. Language Acquisition
    • At 3 months the brain has the potential to distinguish several hundred spoken sounds.
    • Over the next few months the brain organizes itself to recognize only the sounds it hears.
    • During early childhood the brain retains plasticity for this information
      • The ability to discriminate sounds it has discarded
    • After age ten, this plasticity is lost
    • This is why young children can easily learn foreign languages accent-free.
      • Older children & adults can still learn language, but more effort is required.
  • 9. Genetics & Environment Interact
    • There is mounting evidence that early experiences can dramatically alter the way genes are expressed in the developing brain.
  • 10. Sensory Stimulation
    • Touch, sound, sight, taste, smell, all build connections .
    • Some researchers, believe "the number of words an infant hears each day is the single most important predictor of later intelligence, school success, and social competence."
    • Touch also is key to brain development
      • Research on infant massage suggests that in preemies, massage causes faster growth and development.
  • 11. Security
    • The most fundamental task of an infant is to learn how to meet his needs
    • If adults respond predictably to his cries and provide for his needs, the infant feels secure.
      • He then focuses his attention on exploring, allowing his brain to develop.
    • If his needs are met only sporadically, the infant will focus his energies on meeting his needs.
      • He will have more and more difficulty interacting with people and objects in his environment
      • His brain will shut out the stimulation it needs to develop healthy cognitive and social skills.
  • 12. Deprivation
    • Infants in environmentally deprived facilities have brains smaller than those of children who grow up in sensually rich environments
    • Studies of over 1,000 abused and neglected children found that children who were rarely touched or spoken to had brains 20-30% smaller than most children their age.
    • In some cases the brains of children from deprived environments resemble the brains of Alzheimer's patients.
    • Animals raised in zoos have brains that are 20-30% smaller than animals raised in the wild.
  • 13. Trauma
    • Childhood trauma can directly affect the way the brain functions.
    • Traumatized children continue to show physical symptoms of fear even in the absence of threatening stimuli
      • have high resting heart rates, high levels of stress hormones in their blood, and problems sleeping suggests that their brains are in a permanent state of "high alert".
    • These children tend to develop emotional, behavioral and learning problems.
  • 14. The Role of Cortisol
    • Studies examined the effect of the stress hormone, cortisol, on brain development.
    • Amount of cortisol in the body can be measured in the saliva allowing testing on infants & children.
    • If levels of cortisol are high, the heart rate, digestive system and ability to think are affected.
    • At birth, the human adrenocortical system is highly responsive to stimulation.
  • 15. Cortisol & Brain Development
    • The brain is the major target of cortisol.
    • Frequent and prolonged exposure to elevated cortisol may affect the development of brain areas involved in memory, negative emotions, and attention regulation.
    • High cortisol levels in preschool children coincide with poor "effort control" and self-regulatory competencies.
  • 16. Learning to Cope With Stress
    • Research on neural plasticity demonstrates that experience shapes the developing brain
    • Early experiences affect later emotional, behavioral and hormonal stress reactivity.
    • This is accomplished by preventing elevations in cortisol in reaction to threatening and mildly painful events.
    • A sense of control is the key factor in modulating cortisol response to potentially threatening o painful events.
      • The presence of a trusted caregiver during stress reduces the production of cortisol.
  • 17. Sleep
    • There is a strong correlation between the amount of sleep a child gets and normal brain development.
    • The brain needs a period of deep, uninterrupted, physiological rest
    • Children between birth and age twelve who do not receive enough sleep do poorly on extended performance testing, creativity and higher-level problem solving.
    • May also relate to cortisol levels
  • 18. The Basis of Learning
    • The past decade has seen a massive amount of research on infant brain development & learning
    • Babies know more than we once thought
  • 19. A Summary of Infant Skills
    • 2-day-old infants recognize their mother's voice and prefer it over other sounds.
    • 3-month-olds can discriminate primary colors, & prefer red & yellow over blue & green.
    • 6-month-olds recognize a mobile 2 weeks after being exposed to it for 2, 15-min. intervals.
    • 7-month-olds can match angry or happy facial expressions with the corresponding vocal expression.
    • 9-month-olds will imitate simple actions which they see being performed on objects, one week later.
  • 20. Formation of Memory
    • Two types of memory: (Restak)
    • “ Wide sense" memory with acquired knowledge.
      • does not associate time or place
    • “ Strict sense” memory
      • capable of association with time or place
  • 21. Wide Sense Memory
    • ‘ Wide sense' memory seems to be present from birth.
    • Infant can learn, modify reactions, and exhibit surprise when something new occurs
    • We just “know” something
    • Might appear to be innate
    • Located in part of the brain that develops early.
  • 22. Conditioned Learning
    • Newborns can be ‘taught’ via conditioning
    • operant conditioning is one type of associative learning in which there is a contingency between the response and the reinforcer.
    • "Place a pair of earphones on a newborn baby and that baby will soon learn to suck in a pattern so as to hear her mother's voice over the earphones . . .”
  • 23. True Memory
    • Memory in the "strict sense" comes into being with the development of higher levels of the brain.
    • The amygdala and frontal lobes are important in memory
    • They develop relatively late in infancy, at about ten months of age.
  • 24. Memory & Learning
    • Sound perception develops first and fastest
    • Researchsearch by Jusczyk et al. at Johns Hopkins investigated infants' long-term memory for the sound patterns of words.
    • This study shows that infants have a previously unknown type of unconscious memory for detailed sound patterns
    • Even if infants don't understand what they hear, "their nervous system is paying attention."
  • 25. The Research
    • Researchers studied 8-month-old infants over the course of 10 visits in 2 weeks.
    • They played them a half-hour audio tape of children's stories.
    • Two weeks after the last visit, the infants were brought to the lab.
    • Researchers read them lists of words, some of which came from the stories
    • Mixed in were foils that sounded similar but had not been mentioned in the stories.
    • Story words kept the infants' attention about 15% longer than the foils, an indication that the infants remembered the story words.
    • A control group of infants that had never heard the stories paid equal attention to words of either list.
  • 26. Learning Language is Incremental
    • The same researchers found that infants first learn to distinguish sound patterns of their native languages.
    • This ability develops faster than any other aspect of language.
    • Infants listened longer to their own names than to any other name, even the ones with similar sound patterns.
    • CNN Interactive: http://www.cnn.com/TECH/9701/22/t_t/babies.birds/
  • 27. Infant Brain Makes Sense of Language
    • A French study found that 3-month-old babies respond to spoken sentences
    • Used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) visualize infants' reactions to speech.
    • Measured brain activity as they spoke "sense" and "nonsense" to the 2- and 3-month-olds.
    • The “sense” consisted of short French sentences; the nonsense of the same sentences, recorded and played back in reverse.
    • Earlier studies found infants just 4 days old could distinguish between their native language and a foreign language.
  • 28. The Language Spurt
    • At about 18 months there is a sudden dramatic increase in word use
    • Vocabulary increases to about 100 words and quickly expands
    • This change, called the naming explosion or vocabulary spurt, is a key stage in development
    • Traditionally explained as the result of progressions in conceptual development
    • Woodward et al at the University of Chicago investigated this phenomenon
    • Showed that children comprehend words equally well at 13 months, when they use just five to ten words
  • 29. The Research
    • They exposed 13- and 18-month-old infants to unfamiliar objects like a big plastic paper clip and a plastic strainer
    • Called one of them by a made-up name, toma.
    • One person repeated the word nine times in different situations
    • Another person, unaware which object was the toma tested the child's comprehension through a play activity
    • Presented two objects on a tray and asked the child to 'put the toma in the box.‘
    • Found little difference in rates of word learning and retention between the two groups of infants .
  • 30. Categorizing
    • Babies can also categorize words
    • A study from Johns Hopkins:
    • "New findings suggest that infants as young as 9 months use words to begin shaping their view of the world, arranging objects into mental categories, in a process previously associated more with preschoolers than with mere babes."
  • 31. Development of Reasoning Skills
    • Babies know more than we believe
    • Children begin to develop reasoning skills as young as seven months of age.
    • Study conducted at the University of Chicago on seven-month-old babies to assess their reasoning skills
    • Used visual habituation to determine infant understanding of the actions of inanimate objects.
    • Measured their attention span to different events.
  • 32. The Research Study
    • The longer a baby watches, the more likely he is trying to understand something unexpected
    • The first test - babies watch a videotape of an object that moves behind a screen blocking the babies' view of the action.
    • Another object moves off the screen after the first object enters.
    • The second test - the screen is removed to show the two objects colliding or not colliding before the second object moves.
  • 33. Results
    • Babies watch longer when objects don’t collide
    • Researchers concluded that they are surprised because it violates a principle they have learned: for objects to cause other objects to move, they must touch each other.
    • If babies are surprised when humans move without touching, that would indicate that they expect humans and objects to react to each other in the same way.
    • The findings support the conclusion that by seven months, infants differentiate between people and objects in their reasoning about simple causal sequences