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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

Attachment and Relationships


Consistency and Stress

Brain Anatomy and Development

Amygdala Processes Other Emotions Besides Fear

New research shows the amygdala is also active in response to pleasant experiences.

Brain Connections and Sleep

A new study shows that connections between the brain’s left and right hemispheres strengthen during sleep.

The Brain and Culture

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

Concussions and the Brain

Learn how concussions affect the brain.

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 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.

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.

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.

New Information about Glial Cells

The brain's glia support and protect neurons, but also play a role in regulating learning and memory.

Physical Activity and Cognitive Skills

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

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

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 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.

Prematurity and Brain Development

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

Recovery from Childhood ADHD

Researchers have discovered that adults whose childhood ADHD persisted into adulthood have more thinning of the cortex than adults who had ADHD as children but grew out of it.

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

How Newborns See Faces

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


Language Development

Background Noise and Language Learning

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

Early Language Learning

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

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.


Attachment and Relationships

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.



Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School

This report, released by the Alliance for Childhood, documents negative consequences of "test-driven" instructional strategies that have completely replaced play in many kindergartens.

The Serious Need for Play

A Scientific American article summarizes research on the benefits of free play for children's cognitive, social, and emotional development.

Too Much Television in Early Childhood

A new report from the University of Montreal shows that toddlers who watch more television than average have more academic and social problems in middle childhood.


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.

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.

Teacher Burnout and Child Stress

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