Impacts of Stress on the Young Brain

Children’s brain development and social behavior can suffer when exposed to long-term stress, but early intervention can help, said two neuroscientists at the July Capitol Hill briefing, “Violence, Stress and Child Development.” The event was organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) through the support of the Dana Foundation and in conjunction with Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA).

Dana Alliance members Judy Cameron, Ph.D., and Felton Earls, M.D., discussed their research on the topic at the event: Cameron spoke about how early exposure to stress affects brain development and later, adult behavior and health; Earls discussed a longitudinal study he led in the 90s on risk factors associated with violence in 343 Chicago neighborhoods.

According to the AAAS report on the briefing,

When the body’s response to stress—the rush of adrenaline, the increase in heart rate, the elevation of certain hormone levels—is constantly active, Cameron said, the result is ‘toxic stress’ that can reduce the number of neural connections in the cognitive areas of the brain at a time when they should be proliferating.

Creating a positive and stimulating environment for the young, can “contribute very positively to a healthy trajectory,” she said.

Studying the social interactions of Chicago neighborhoods, AAAS reported that Earls’ group found “[t]he most important influence on a neighborhood’s crime rate…was the neighbors’ sense of ‘agency’ or willingness to intervene on behalf of the
common good.” He said that his group “found that collective efficacy was…operating as a protective factor.”

For additional information about the briefing, including details on the negative impacts of long-term stress, read the full AAAS write up. You can also read about previous briefings on stroke recovery,  brain mapping, early-onset dementia, mental illness in young adults, and the links between poverty and brain development.

– Ann L. Whitman

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