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Friday, April 12, 2013

The Neuroscience Happening In a Baby's Brain Is Essential to Their Future

Such an interesting interview on Stefan Molyneux's Freedomain Radio with Dr. Stuart Shanker.

Key takeaways:

Babies are born with all their neurons, but few connections. The stimuli they experience helps grow the connections and wire the circuitry of their brain.

Their interaction with their parents is crucially important in helping them to grow well-ordered circuitry so they develop into successful children and adults. Specifically, soothing behavior from the parents helps teach them to grow connections that allow them to "self-soothe" and properly deal with stress and pain as they become more independent.

Arousal and aversion are two reactions babies have to stimuli. Arousal is a response to stimulating factors and helps them develop curiosity and engagement with their environment. Aversion is a response to painful over-stimulation. Both of these reactions require a liberal amount of nurturing interaction with the parent to grow the baby's brain circuitry into a properly-ordered, self-regulating mechanism.

By 1st grade, a child's aptitude for learning and properly adaptive social behavior is very well established, and difficult, though not impossible, to nudge one way or another(!). Past models for understanding childhood education understood this observation in terms of IQ, some sort of inherent biological characteristic of the child. Now, neuroscience is revealing that it is in fact, environmental factors in the child's upbringing that have less to do with the child's "intelligence quotient" and more to do with the child's ability to self-soothe, handle frustration, delay gratification, and other learn-able cognitive skill sets that require well-adapted brain circuitry.

As I was discussing with a friend after listening to this interview, these are some of the most valuable insights we can possibly have to better our world. I think most people would agree that the most important task for our society is raising its children well. On a personal level, I think most people would say raising their child(ren) to be successful, happy, productive, and adaptive is the single most important priority they have.

Sadly, I would venture that society and individuals don't always suit action to these sentiments. Neuroscience is uncovering the answers to these challenges at an unprecedented rate. Let's have more conversations about this!

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