Help Make a Hundred Trillion Neuron Connections
Recently, I came across an article in National Geographic that discussed the development of an infant's brain. They cited a study by the Harvard Medical School that showed the EEG of eight-year-olds who were moved from an institutionalized setting to foster care before and after the age of two. Then they compared those findings with children that were never institutionalized. The study reveals some very profound insights into the development of the brains of newborns.
The brain of a newborn contains around 100-billion neurons, which is what an adult's brain also contains. However, the newborn's learning process begins as the existing neurons connect with other neurons. The result is that a normal infant's neurons will make connections resulting in a hundred trillion connections by the time the child reaches three.
To prove the creation of these connections, researchers conducted a demonstration of the brain activity of infants. They placed a little cap of electrodes on the newborn's head, which contain sensors that record brain activity.
They would allow the infant to hear a sequence of sounds in the pattern of AAB. The infant hears that several times, and then the newborn hears ABB. The newborns recognize the difference, which is the basis of learning words and constructing sentences later on in their lives. This process starts very soon after birth.
It is critically important for an infant that its parents or caretakers take the time to talk with the infant and small children. The actual talking to children develops the child's process of connecting the neurons. Researchers recorded what parents said to their children. No surprisingly, college-educated parents spoke 2,153-words per hour to a child. However, less educated parents on welfare will speak 616-words per hour to a child. That difference is startling. The more educated and therefore more affluent parents will speak approximately 3.5 times more words in an hour to their child than the less affluent parents will.
Additionally, there is a major difference with not only the number of words but also what is said and how it is said. The tendency among the less affluent parents is to say short commends to the child like, "Don't do that" or "Eat your meal." The more affluent parents are much more interactive and expressive in their conversation.
These studies prove the critical importance of good communication skills with especially newborns and young children, which parallels the early years of brain development. Nevertheless, the long-term effect can be seen when the child reaches high school and beyond. If the newborns and young children prior to going to kindergarten do not experience good parental or care provider communicating with the child, the child's brain will be severely limited.
In addition, that child will grow up severely deprived of a great deal of learning and understanding. Consequently, the child will perpetuate the same limited educational experience with his or her children in the next generation. The cycle continues for the less affluent person while the society will perceive that person as being lazy and not trying. However, the person is a product of his/her upbringing especially in the very first few years. The cycle will continue ad infinitum.
Watch Patricia Kuhl discuss the linguistic development of a baby.