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September 25, 2013

The Infant Brain

by Angel Pumila

The Infant Brain

 “During infancy and toddlerhood, neural fibers and synapses increase at an astounding pace” (Berk, 2012; Huttenlocher, 2002; Moore & Persaud, 2008).  These components of the brain communicate and form bonds with neighboring structures through stimulation to create the basic skills the child will need in life.  Neurons that are not stimulated experience a process called synaptic pruning in which they are stored for future use (Berk, 2012, p165).

The environment plays a huge role in infant brain development.  Researchers have found that children raised in orphanages with little adult stimulation grow to have issues in all areas of development (Berk, 2012, p169).  These areas include lower test scores, stress management issues, and emotional, behavioral, and psychological problems.   Studies show that these deprived children show greater improvement in these areas when they are subject to the deprivation for shorter increments and then raised in a normal, caring environment (Beckett et al., 2006; O’Connor et al., 2000; Rutter et al., 1998, 2004, 2010).

Unlike the adult brain, the brain of infants and toddlers can easily reorganize itself after experiencing damage (Berk, 2012, p170).  Their brain plasticity allows for the functioning of areas to be designated to make up for the damage.  Although a slight time of initial delay may occur after the onset of damage, children have been found to remarkably catch up to children their age in their functioning skills when compared to adults.

As you can see, appropriate stimulation is vital to infant brain development.  Researchers have categorized this development as experience-expectant and experience-dependent brain growth. The first describes the foundation of growth from brain organization to learning through interactions with the environment (Berk, 2012, p172).  On the other hand, experience-dependent brain growth adds to brain development through specific experiences over our lifetime.




Beckett, C., Maughan, B., Rutter, M., Castile, J., Colvert, E., & Groothues, C. (2006). Do the effects of early severe deprivation on cognition persist into early adolescence? Findings from the English and Romanian adoptees study. Child Development, 77, 696-711.

Berk, L. E. (2012). Infants, children, and adolescents (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. ISBN: 9780205718160

Huttenlocher, P.R. (2002). Neural plasticity: The effects of environment on the development of the cerebral cortex. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Moore, K.L. & Persaud, T.V.N. (2008). Before we are born (7th ed). Philadelphia: Saunders.

O’Connor, T.G., Rutter, M., Beckett, C., Keaveney, L., Dreppner, J.M., & the English and Romanian Adoptees Study Team. (2003). Child-parent attachment following early institutional deprivation. Development and Psychopathology, 15, 19-38.

Rutter, M., & the English and Romanian Adoptees Study Team. (1998). Developmental catch-up, and deficit, following adoption after severe global early privation. Journal of Child Psychology and Psyciatry, 39, 465-476.

Rutter, M. O’Connor, T.G., and the English and Romanian Adoptees Study Team. (2004). Are there biological programming effects for psychological development? Findings from a study of Romanian adoptees. Developmental Psychology, 40, 81-94.

Rutter, M., Sonuga-Barke, E.J, Beckett, C., Castle, J., Kreppner, J., Kumsta, R., et al. (2010). Deprivation-specific psychological patterns: Effects of institutional deprivation. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 75(1, Serial No. 295).



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