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Recent Research on the Brain and Early Childhood Development

As research in neuroscience advances, our understanding of the brain and healthy brain development continues to change. The following are some recent reports and news releases highlighting cutting-edge research related to the brain and child development. Examples of recent brain research are also highlighted on the BBB home page.


Click on the following links to view the articles in that content area:

Brain Anatomy and Development

Brain Disorders and Disabilities

The Senses

Language Development

Physical Well-Being

Attachment and Relationships


Consistency and Stress

Brain Anatomy and Development

The Brain and Culture

The function of the brain may actually be influenced by individuals' cultural environments.

Brain Development and Reasoning

Building structural connections in a young child's developing brain is essential for higher-order brain functioning.

Deliberate Practice of New Skills

Research shows that children as young as age 6 understand what practice is and deliberately practice for the future.

Dendrites and Memory

New research shows that dendrite activity has a role in storing long-term memories.

Do Brain Games Really Work?

A review of the research on the effectiveness of cognitive training that promises to delay or reduce mental decline.

Early Experiences Can Alter Gene Expression

In a new working paper, the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child explains how early experiences can actually change the way genes express themselves, with long-term implcations.

Early Life Experience and Critical Periods

New research confirms that early experiences have the power to change brain circuits.

Genetics and Attention to the World

Research with twins suggests that genetics heavily influence gaze patterns, which contribute to children’s attention and interaction with the environment.

Genetics Contribute to Aggression in Toddlers

A new study of twins shows that differences in the development of aggression in toddlers are partly due to genetic differences.

Glial Cells Play a Role in Memory

Glial cells, the support cells that help neurons function, also play a role in learning and memory in mice.

Growth Mindset

Children who believe their intelligence can grow are more likely to learn from their mistakes than children who think their intelligence is fixed.

How the Brain Categorizes Images

A new technology known as SWIFT provides more in-depth information about how the human brain categorizes images.

How the Brain Navigates

New research from Norway shows how the brain maps the environment to make navigation in space possible.

Long-Term Effects of Homelessness on Children

Children whose families were homeless for more than 6 months are at high risk for negative health and developmental outcomes.

Resource on Enhancing Executive Function

The Center on the Developing Child has created a resource with practical tips and activities to help children and teens with working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility -- the three major abilities that contribute to executive function.

Sex Differences in the Brain

Neuroscientists are recognizing that men’s and women’s brains have different patterns of neural activity in some areas.


Brain Disorders and Disabilities

Abuse Changes the Brain

Researchers have discovered that child abuse changes the thickness of the myelin coating of axons in the brain. These changes could have long-lasting negative effects on emotion regulation and attachment.

Adolescent ADHD and the Brain

Young adults diagnosed with ADHD in adolescence have different brain structure than young adults who do not have ADHD. 

Brain Changes and Gene Activity in Autism

Researchers have discovered that the severity of autism spectrum disorder in children is linked to gene activity in specific brain cells.

Brain Wiring and Sensory Processing Disorder

New technology shows that children with SPD have different neural pathways in brain areas responsible for auditory, visual, and tactile processing.

Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy Can Affect Future Generations

Mothers who drink even small amounts of alcohol during pregnancy can increase the risk of alcoholism in the next three generations.

Early Exposure to Toxic Substances Damages Brain Architecture

This report by the National Scientific Council for the Developing Child, explores ways that toxic substances can disrupt the development of all of the body’s organ systems, including the brain.

Maternal Depression Can Undermine Young Children's Development

A working paper from the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child summarizes research on maternal depression and child development.

New Therapy for ASD

Researchers at Stanford University have discovered that Pivotal Response Treatment is more effective than other treatments at helping parents motivate children on the autism spectrum to talk.

Parents’ Trauma May Contribute to Children’s Behavior Issues

Parents who faced severe stress or trauma as children are more likely to have children with ADHD and mental health issues.

Prematurity and Brain Development

Developmental differences in late-preterm babies may not show up until after age 2.

Potential Biomarker for ASD

Researchers have identified a biomarker that may enable early, non-invasive diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

School Success in Premature Babies

Many parents of premature babies fear that their child will have later difficulties in school, but research shows that most babies born prematurely are ready for kindergarten on time and achieve similar academic outcomes to full-term babies.

Stable Home Life Reduces Risk for Preemies

Researchers have discovered that premature infants who live in stable, nurturing home environments are at a lower risk of neurodevelopmental issues such as ADHD, ASD, and anxiety orders than preemies with stressful home lives.

Teen Alcohol Exposure and the Brain

Adolescent drinking may lead to difficulties adapting to stress as an adult, at least in rats.

Tobacco Exposure and Behavior Problems in Children

Babies exposed to tobacco products in utero, or shortly after birth, have an increased risk of behavior problems.


The Senses

Arts and Learning for Low-Achieving Students

A research update from Johns Hopkins shows that incorporating the arts into school curriculum can help low-achieving students learn more effectively.

Children and Nature

Australian parents report that children who are more connected to nature are less distressed and hyperactive and have fewer behavioral and emotional problems.

How Newborns See Faces

Researchers in Oslo have used modeling to construct images of how newborn infants see people around them.

Newborns Distinguish Touch

New research suggests that young infants can already distinguish between different kinds of touch on the skin.

Music and Infant Development

Infant-directed song may have evolved as a way for adults to signal to infants that their needs are being met.


Language Development

Background Noise and Language Learning

Toddlers in noisy environments may have more difficulty learning new words.

Benefits of Reading with Infants

Regularly reading out loud to children, beginning in infancy, can increase vocabulary and reading skills even before they enter school.

Children Store Large Amounts of Information to Learn Language

According to researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, children learning language must absorb about 12.5 million bits of information between infancy and age 18.

Early Language Learning

Even brief exposure to a language in infancy affects how the brain is wired for language.

Early Language Learning and Depression

Children with low levels of language stimulation in the first three years of life have a higher risk of childhood depression.

New Insights about Early Language Development

What does toddlers’ use of “a” and “the” tell us about their language development?

Reading to Young Children Changes Brain Activity

Researchers have confirmed that reading to children before they enter kindergarten changes the way the brain processes stories, and may predict later reading success.

Second-Language Learning and the Brain

Studying a second language, even for a short period of time, improves attention skills.

Sounding Out Words Increases Brain Activity in Reading Centers

New brain wave studies show that sounding out words increases activity in parts of the brain wired for reading.

Sounds and Language

How the brain moves from processing sounds to processing language.

Stuttering and the Brain

People who stutter have less blood flow to Broca’s area, which controls productive language in the brain.


Physical Well-Being

Brains and Type 1 Diabetes

Researchers have found subtle but important differences that make the brains of children with Type 1 diabetes less efficient, especially during cognitive tasks.

How Sugar Affects the Brain

This TED talk explains how sugar affects the brain, and why sugar tends to be so addictive for many people.

Motor Skill Development and School Readiness

Preschoolers with better fine and gross motor skills perform better on kindergarten readiness measures.

Physical Activity and Cognitive Skills

Activities that require balance, such as climbing trees and balancing on a beam, can improve working memory.

Reaching, Grasping, and Brain Development

Researchers have discovered that the act of reaching and grasping causes changes in neuronal connections in the midbrain.

Sleep and Eating Habits

Children with poorer-quality sleep tend to have higher body mass index than children who sleep better.

Sleep and Healthy Body Weight Development

Age-appropriate bedtimes and regular sleep may be important for children to maintain healthy body weight in adolescence.

Sleep and Working Memory

Researchers have discovered working memory ability is linked to a child’s age, sleep quality, and mood. Working memory is a key component of executive function.

Sleep Deprivation and Risky Behavior

Sleep-deprived adolescents are more likely to engage in risky behavior.

Sleep Matters for Children

Only 48% of school age children in the United States get 9 hours of sleep most week nights. According to researchers, those who do are significantly more likely to show a positive outlook toward school and other signs of 'childhood flourishing,' a measure of behavioral and social well-being.

Starting Solid Foods

Researchers have discovered that many infants begin eating complementary foods too soon. Current recommendations suggest introducing solid foods to infants at 6 months of age.


Attachment and Relationships

Developing Empathy

Research suggests that both older and younger siblings contribute to the development of empathy in each other.

Prosocial Behavior in Toddlers

Research suggests that infants learn prosocial behavior through imitation. When they observe helping behavior, they are more likely to be helpful.

Young Children in an Environment of Relationships

This working paper, released by the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, summarizes research on early relationships and childn development. The research indicated that early relationships form the foundation for the development of brain circuits, as well as later developmental outcomes. The paper also identifies ways to improve policies that suppport strong, positive relationships in the early years.



Benefits of Music Training

Music training positively changes children's brain structure, leading to lasting benefits.


Consistency and Stress

Early Life Stress and Later Depression

The stress of early abuse and neglect may make the brain less able to process positive emotions and rewards.

Positive Childhood Experiences are Important for Long-Term Health

Researchers have discovered a correlation between ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) and worse health outcomes later in life. Positive experiences during childhood (examples: having a relationship with a trustworthy and responsive adult and opportunities for positive social engagement) have the potential to negate harmful health effects caused by ACEs.

Reducing Toxic Stress in Children Enrolled in Early Head Start

Researchers are investigating the most effective ways to minimize toxic stress in children living below the poverty line, working through the federal Early Head Start program.

Excessive Stress Disrupts the Brain's Architecture

This working paper, released by the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, highlights the importance of a nurturing, supportive environment to protect young children against the harmful effects of chronic toxic stress.

Regular Routines Reduce Obesity Risk

Regular bedtimes, mealtimes, and other routines help preschoolers regulate emotions, which may help reduce obesity risk later in life.

Teacher Burnout and Child Stress

Elementary students whose teachers are experiencing burnout tend to have higher cortisol levels, indicating more stress.