BABYMINDER – Renowned child development expert Dr. Benjamin Spock said that, “for decades, scientists believed that the human brain was shaped solely in accordance with the child’s genetic blueprint. Biology was destiny. However, your genes told your brains to grow, that was exactly how it was formed.”
According to Dr. Spock, “the real picture is for more interesting and far more complex. First, the human brain contains about 100 billion nerve cells (neurons) and each connects to about 10,000 other neurons. Each cell can send up to 100 messages a second to its neighbors. You can see that possible number or interconnections between the nerve cells of the brain is beyond measure.”
The brain is designed primarily by the interconnection of nerve cells—also called the architecture of the brain—which is determined to a significant degree by the infant or young child’s experiences in the world.
“Early experiences—especially those in the first years of life when the brain is growing and interconnections between the nerve cells occur at a very fast rate—actually change the structure of the brain,” Dr. Spock says.
Then, when the brain stops growing and stops making new connections sometime in middle childhood, “the job is done and the die is cast,” he says.
However, this doesn’t mean that the process of development stops. It does mean that the complexity and richness of the brain itself is pretty much set—in computer terms, the hard drive is completed and awaits programming and we all have to make the best of what we’ve got because the critical period of brain development is over.[pq]Experiences affect the way we think and rich, emotionally positive experiences tend to promote certain complex brain connections.[/pq]
Negative experiences also reinforce certain connections in the brain, although these are not the ones we would like to see, such as connecting a feeling of fear to a certain sound or smell.
“A lack of stimulation causes there to be fewer connections and a less complex network of neurons in the brain altogether,” Dr. Spock says. “Babies growing up in a home filled with anxiety and tension seem to have fewer tools with which to cope with their feelings. They are also easily overwhelmed by their feelings.”
This partly explains why children from nurturing and attentive homes seem to do better in all aspects of life than children who have negatively neglected.
These are the reasons why scientists believe that early experiences play a significant role in the long-term process of development and why, right from the start, the business of child rearing is so important, not only to the child and to the family, but to society as a whole.