US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — For a baby’s brain to develop, love is needed. Most importantly, what happens to him in the first year of life.
In the late 1980s, when the United States was overwhelmed by cocaine addiction, Halle Hurt, a neonatologist from Philadelphia, worried about the fate of the children of crack lovers, conducted a special study with her colleagues. They compared four-year-old babies from low-income families, dividing them into two groups according to a simple principle: mothers took drugs during pregnancy or not. The researchers did not reveal significant differences, but found that in children from both groups the intelligence was significantly lower than average. “The kids were charming, and yet their IQ was about 82–83, while the average was 100,” recalls Hurt. “We were in shock.” This discovery prompted scientists not to look for differences, but to focus on what the children had in common — the poverty in which they grew up. Researchers walked around the house asking their parents if they had at least ten children’s books, a player and records with children’s songs, toys that help to master the score. They noted whether parents and children speak kindly, answer their questions, hug, kiss, praise them.
The baby’s brain is a powerful self-learning machine, the tuning of which depends largely on the parents.
In babies who received more attention and care, IQ was usually higher. If parents encouraged their curiosity, children did better with language tasks; if they grew up in an atmosphere of kindness and affection, they were given easier memory exercises. When the subjects grew up, they underwent magnetic resonance imaging of the brain and compared the pictures with the research materials. A clear relationship was found between the size of the hippocampus – the part of the brain responsible for memory as well – and how four-year-old children were treated (as it turned out, the particularities of raising eight-year-olds did not affect brain development). This showed how important the favorable conditions for the formation of man are in early childhood. The Philadelphia study, published in 2010, was one of the first to prove that in which the baby grows, forms its brain. In recent years, other experiments have been conducted demonstrating the relationship between the socio-economic status of the child and his intelligence. The brain initially has amazing abilities, but its development depends on external factors. Today, experts are trying to understand what role innate qualities and upbringing play here. Looking into the children’s brain with the help of the latest scanners, scientists begin to explore the mysterious process, as a result of which a child, at birth unable to even focus his eyes, by the age of five can talk, ride a tricycle, draw and make up imaginary friends. The more we learn about how children develop, the more we become convinced that the baby’s brain is a powerful self-learning machine.
Of course, the transformation of a lump of cells into a new person is one of the greatest miracles of life, but no less magic is the transformation of a helpless baby into a one-year-old man who is able to walk, communicate and express his desires. While I was collecting material for this article, my daughter overcame the path from a restless bundle, able to only deliver with piercing cries that she was hungry, to the restless three-year-old, a young lady who did not want to leave her house without sunglasses. The development of her thinking and emotions was a whole chain of miracles – I never get tired of wondering how quickly the children’s brain comprehends the world. The stages that my daughter went along this path are known to any parent. At two years old, she realized that she didn’t have to hold my hand all the time, it’s enough to take it when we cross the road. Then the daughter learned to plug the drain hole of the bath with a ball or heel – and turn the shower into a fun bath. By the age of three, she had already been talking for a long time and composing poems. Despite the fact that people have been raising children for thousands of years, we still do not understand exactly how the kids learn to speak, think logically and plan their actions. The lightning-fast development rate of the body in the early years coincides with the formation of a huge bundle of nerve chains. A newborn has about a hundred billion neurons in the brain – as much as an adult. While the child is growing, receiving streams of information from the sensory organs, neurons are connected to each other, so that by the age of three, about a hundred trillion of such contacts, called synapses, appear in the brain. Different incentives – when, for example, the baby hears a lullaby or reaches for a toy – contribute to the creation of various neural networks. The nerve chains are strengthened by repeated activation. The sheath of nerve fibers, consisting of the conductive substance myelin, thickens along commonly used paths, and electrical impulses are transmitted faster. Unused chains die off due to a break in bonds called synaptic pruning. Between a year and five, as well as in early adolescence, the brain goes through growth and optimization cycles, and experience plays a key role in strengthening those chains that are destined to survive. Unused chains die off due to a break in bonds called synaptic pruning. Between a year and five, as well as in early adolescence, the brain goes through growth and optimization cycles, and experience plays a key role in strengthening those chains that are destined to survive. Unused chains die off due to a break in bonds called synaptic pruning. Between a year and five, as well as in early adolescence, the brain goes through growth and optimization cycles, and experience plays a key role in strengthening those chains that are destined to survive. The influence on the formation of the brain and nature, and upbringing is especially pronounced with the development of speech. For evidence, I turn to Judith Gervain, a cognitive neuroscience specialist at the University of Descartes, who has been researching the linguistic abilities of children for the past ten years. We meet on the stairs leading to the Robert Debreu Hospital in Paris, where Gervain is about to conduct an experiment on newborns.
I follow her into the office next to the maternity ward. The first “volunteer” is brought on a cart. It is wrapped in a blanket – white with pink polka dots; next comes the father. A hat is dotted on the baby’s head, studded with button-like sensors. They should scan the brain of a child while they are playing sequences of sounds like “well-ja-ha”. But the “volunteer” only enters in a discontented cry. The experience ends immediately, and the father takes the baby. When they leave, Gervain, who herself became a mother a few months ago, admits that such setbacks are not uncommon. Another newborn is brought, also accompanied by his father. This time the experiment goes without a hitch – the baby sleeps from the first to the last minute. Judith Gervain and her colleagues for several years scanned the brains of infants using near infrared spectroscopy, while playing them different sequences of sounds. Some were built according to the type of ABB (“mu-ba-ba”), others – according to the type of ABC (“mu-ba-ge”). Researchers found that the areas of the brain responsible for speech and sound recognition respond better to ABB-type sequences. They later found out that the brain of a newborn is also able to distinguish between the sequences of AAB and ABB. It turns out that infants noticed not only the repetition itself, but also where exactly it occurs. respond better to ABB type sequences. They later found out that the brain of a newborn is also able to distinguish between the sequences of AAB and ABB. It turns out that infants noticed not only the repetition itself, but also where exactly it occurs. respond better to ABB type sequences. They later found out that the brain of a newborn is also able to distinguish between the sequences of AAB and ABB. It turns out that infants noticed not only the repetition itself, but also where exactly it occurs.
Gervain is delighted with these discoveries, since the order of sounds is the foundation upon which words are built. “Position information is key to the language,” says the researcher. “Much depends on the word order in the sentence:“ blood with milk ”is not at all the same as“ milk with blood ”.” Judging by the fact that the baby’s brain from the first days of life determines different types of sequences of sounds, language learning algorithms are embedded in neural tissue initially. “For a long time, scientists believed that children first learn sounds, then they begin to understand words, and then groups of words,” says Gervain. “But now we know that babies learn grammar from birth.” Researchers led by Angela Friderici, a neuropsychologist at the Leipzig Institute for Human Cognitology and Brain Science of the Max Planck Society, confirmed this opinion during the experiment with four-month-old children who were losing speech in an unfamiliar language. At first they heard a series of Italian sentences with different forms of verbs – for example, “Brother can sing” and “Sister sings”. Three minutes later they were allowed to listen to other phrases in Italian, some of which were incorrect – “Brother to sing,” “Sister can sing”, etc. Researchers measured brain activity using tiny electrodes attached to the heads of babies. During the first experiment, kids equally perceived correct and incorrect sentences. But after only a few rounds, they began to react very differently to erroneous designs. “Brother can sing” and “Sister sings”. Three minutes later they were allowed to listen to other phrases in Italian, some of which were incorrect – “Brother to sing,” “Sister can sing”, etc. Researchers measured brain activity using tiny electrodes attached to the heads of babies. During the first experiment, kids equally perceived correct and incorrect sentences. But after only a few rounds, they began to react very differently to erroneous designs. “Brother can sing” and “Sister sings”. Three minutes later they were allowed to listen to other phrases in Italian, some of which were incorrect – “Brother to sing,” “Sister can sing”, etc. Researchers measured brain activity using tiny electrodes attached to the heads of babies. During the first experiment, kids equally perceived correct and incorrect sentences. But after only a few rounds, they began to react very differently to erroneous designs.
For a long time, scientists believed that children first learn sounds, then they begin to understand words, and then groups of words. But now we know that babies learn grammar from birth.
In fifteen minutes, the children understood what sentences were built correctly. “Although they did not grasp the meaning of the phrases, they were able to understand the grammar,” says Friderici. “At this stage of language learning, it’s not the syntax, but the phonologically encoded pattern.” Researchers have proven that kids aged two and a half years old can well correct grammatical errors in the speech of puppet theater characters. By the age of three, most children already understand how their mother tongue works, and the vocabulary of babies is growing rapidly. The heyday of linguistic abilities is accompanied by the formation of new connections between neurons, thanks to which speech is effectively perceived at once at several levels: sound, semantic and syntactic. Scientists have yet to understand how the infant brain assimilates the language. However, according to Friderici, it’s already obvious that “one equipment is not enough – you need incoming data”. When I go to Leipzig to meet with Angela Friederici, in the shuttle of Munich Airport, my attention is drawn to my mother, carried away by the conversation with her little son. “What do you see?” She asks when the bus leaves the terminal. “A lot of planes!” – the boy enthusiastically answers, bouncing on the spot. Inside, they find themselves in a row ahead of me, and I can see that throughout the flight they do not stop communicating. A woman reads one book with pictures to her son after another, stopping to answer his every question – her enthusiasm seems to be inexhaustible. When the plane lands, I find out that my mother, Merle Feuerwurst, is a cognitive neuroscientist who studies the development and social cognition of children. Not surprising, More than twenty years ago, child psychologists Todd Risley and Betty Hart, who worked at the University of Kansas, recorded hundreds of hours of communication between children and adults in 42 families of various social backgrounds, watching children from nine months to three years of age.
Studying the transcripts of these notes, Risley and Hart made an unexpected discovery. Children in well-to-do families, where parents are usually professionals with higher education, heard an average of 2153 words addressed to them per hour, while in families living on benefits, only 616. By four years, the total difference increased to about thirty million words. In poor families, parents, as a rule, let out short and formal remarks – “Sit down!”, “Stop immediately!”, While wealthy parents had lengthy conversations with the kids on various topics, developing their memory and imagination. In other words, children from low-income families grew up on a meager language diet. Researchers have found that lengthy conversations are especially important. The kids with whom they talked longer had a higher IQ at three years old, and later they studied better at school. It would seem easy to make children hear more words without parental involvement. However, judging by everything, a TV, an audiobook, the Internet or a smartphone are not very effective here. This is the conclusion reached by scientists from the University of Washington in Seattle, who worked with nine-month-old babies under the leadership of Patricia Cool. Kul and her colleagues studied the main mystery of mastering the language: how children learn the sound of native speech by the year. In the first few months of life, they are able to recognize the sounds of absolutely any language. However, between six months and a year, this ability is improved in relation to the native language, and weakens in relation to foreign ones. Japanese children, for example, cease to distinguish between “l” and “r”. During the experiment, researchers introduced nine-month-old children to the Chinese language. Some talked to live Chinese speakers who played with them and read books to them. “The kids were fascinated by these people,” says Cool. “In the waiting room, they were waiting for them and were constantly looking at the door.” Children from another group saw and heard the same Chinese speakers on TV, while the third group only listened to audio recordings of Chinese speech. After 12 lessons, the kids were tested for their ability to recognize phonemes in the Chinese language.
Researchers assumed that children who watched the video would demonstrate the same level as their peers who interacted directly with people. However, the difference was huge! After lively communication, children were able to distinguish between Chinese phonemes with the same ease as native speakers. But everyone else – whether they watched the video or listened to the audio – did not learn anything. “We were shocked,” says Patricia Cool. “The result of the experiment changed our fundamental ideas about the brain.” Based on the results of this and other studies, Kul put forward an idea that he calls the “social gateway hypothesis”. It lies in the fact that social experience paves the way for linguistic, cognitive and emotional development. Coming to power in Romaniain the mid-1960s, the communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu tried with tough measures to transform the country from agrarian to industrial. Thousands of families have moved from villages to cities, getting jobs at enterprises. To increase the population, the state banned contraception and abortion, and taxed childless couples over twenty-five. As a result of such a policy, many parents abandoned their newborn children, who were placed in state shelters called leagans (in Romanian – “cradle”). Only after Ceausescu was overthrown in 1989 did the world learn about the terrifying conditions in which these children lived. In infancy, they were left unattended for many hours. As a rule, from adults they saw only one single teacher who came, to feed and bathe fifteen to twenty children at once. When the kids started walking, almost no attention was paid to them. This system was changing slowly, and in 2001, American scientists began to observe 136 children from six orphanages in order to study the effect of such neglect on their development.
Researchers led by Charles Ziana, a child psychiatrist from Tulane University, Nathan Fox, a specialist in developmental psychology and neurobiology from the University of Maryland, and Charles Nelson, a neuroscientist from Harvard, were struck by abnormalities in the behavior of these children. Many of them, being at the beginning of the study younger than two years old, did not show the slightest affection for their teachers and did not run to them when they were upset with something. “Instead, they behaved almost like children raised by wild animals. We have never seen anything like this: the kids wandered aimlessly back and forth, banged their heads on the floor, spun and froze in place, ”says Fox. When the researchers took the electroencephalograms of these children, they found that the signals emitted by their brain are weaker than those of peers living in families. “Their brain activity seemed to be muffled,” Nathan Fox recalls. Then Fox and his colleagues placed half of the children in foster care. They received monthly allowance, books, toys, diapers and other necessary things, from time to time social workers came to them. The second half of the children remained in boarding schools. Soon, the differences between the two groups became striking. At the age of eight, children living in foster care had the same electroencephalograms as all their peers. The children remaining in boarding schools, the electrical signals of the brain remained weak. Although all the children participating in the study had less than the average brain volume, those who got to their foster parents on time formed significantly more white matter (that is, axons connecting the neurons) than the inhabitants of orphanages. “It follows that the children in whose lives a change has taken place have more connections between neurons,” Nathan Fox explains. Especially the ability to socialize varied. “Many of the children we took away from the boarding school, especially those we took at an early age, can now communicate with their foster parents just like any child,” Fox says. “In the first years of life, the brain is quite plastic, which allows us to overcome the consequences of psychological trauma.” According to Fox, this is the most encouraging result of the study: even such strong deviations can be corrected – most importantly, to be on time. which we took from the boarding school, especially from those we took at an early age, today they can communicate with their adoptive parents just like any child, ”says Fox. “In the first years of life, the brain is quite plastic, which allows us to overcome the consequences of psychological trauma.” According to Fox, this is the most encouraging result of the study: even such strong deviations can be corrected – most importantly, to be on time. which we took from the boarding school, especially from those we took at an early age, today they can communicate with their adoptive parents just like any child, ”says Fox. “In the first years of life, the brain is quite plastic, which allows us to overcome the consequences of psychological trauma.” According to Fox, this is the most encouraging result of the study: even such strong deviations can be corrected – most importantly, to be on time.
It is to solve this problemA training program targeted by neuroscientist Helen Neville at Oregon University (Eugene) is targeted. Specialists work with poor families included in the lists of the state program “Initial Advantage”. Parents of young children come to work every week for two months. In the first classes, they are taught to reduce the stress associated with daily care for babies. Any parent will confirm that sometimes a baby is able to infuriate even a saint. And if you add a constant lack of money … “Sometimes you feel like you are about to break loose,” admits Patricia Kichek, one of the participants in the program. Teachers recommend more often resorting to the so-called positive reinforcement. “We encourage less scolding the baby when he is poor in bed, and instead praise him every time, when he does something good, ”explains Sarah Burlingame, one of the teachers. Then parents learn to develop their child’s thinking through various tasks. For example, they give him several items – a spoon, a plastic bottle, a pen – and are asked to guess which one will float in water and which one will drown. The “hypothesis” can be checked by arranging an experiment in a bucket of water or in a bath.
I grew up in an atmosphere of constant stress and promised myself that I would remember this when I myself became a mother: this will not happen to my children.
While parents learn new methods of upbringing, their children train attention and willpower for forty minutes each week. They learn to focus on the chosen task when there is a lot of distraction around them: for example, kids paint pictures while their friends play with balloons nearby. A game called “emotional lotto” helps them better determine their emotions: children select pictures that depict people with different facial expressions for words that mean emotions (for example, “happy” or “sad”). In the end, the guys master the methods of stress relief: for example, to calm down when upset, they are taught to breathe deeply. Eight weeks later, researchers evaluate language proficiency, non-verbal IQ, and children’s attentiveness. After conducting a survey of parents, they also learn about the behavior of the children. In an article published in July 2013, Neville and her colleagues noted that after children from families participating in the Initial Advantage program completed a course of study, their rates became significantly higher and their parents’ stress levels decreased. “When you change your approach to parenting and the level of stress decreases, it leads to increased control over emotions and improved cognitive abilities in children,” says Neville.
Tana Argo, a young mother of four children, decided to take part in the program so that her kids never feel as abandoned as she herself was in childhood. “I grew up in an atmosphere of constant stress and promised myself that I will remember this when I become a mother myself,” says Tana. “This will not happen to my children.” The woman is sure that the new knowledge has changed the relationship in her family. Now she finds more time to play with children and educate them. Inviting me to visit, Tana tells how happy she was when her four-year-old daughter, the youngest, recently flopped onto the carpet to flip through a children’s encyclopedia. When leaving, I notice a bright cover – the encyclopedia lies at the very top of the pile of children’s books. If everything goes well.
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