Baby Photograph

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

Public Policy and Brain Development


Brain Anatomy and Development

Amygdala Processes Other Emotions Besides Fear

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

Brain Development FAQs from Zero to Three

Want to know more about how the brain changes during the early years? Zero to Three has answers to some of their most frequently asked questions about early brain development.

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.

The Hippocampus and Memory

The hippocampus has amore complex role in memory than researchers originally believed.

How Arts Training Improves Attention and Cognition

Researchers have found that being actively involved in a form of art can strengthen the attention networks in children's brains and improve overall cognition.

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.

Intuition, Memory Help Us Keep Track of Numbers

For many of us, numbers consume our daily lives: phone numbers, personal identification numbers, access codes, dates, etc. Scientists think our ability to remember numbers may relate to an innate “number sense,” as well as simple memorization.

Is the Brain a Hierarchy or a "Flat" System?

The ongoing research debate on how brain connections are organized.

The "Mozart effect" is a Myth

Just listening to Mozart music does not improve spatial reasoning or other cognitive abilities.

Neuroscience Core Concepts

Learn more about the fundamental principles of the brain and nervous system, thanks to the Society for Neuroscience.

New Imaging Study Sheds Light on Teen Peer Pressure

Researcher Tomáš Paus at the University of Nottingham has discovered that children who are better able to resist peer pressure also have stronger connections in the frontal lobes of the brain.

New Information about Glial Cells

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

NIH Releases Neuroimaging Data on Children’s Brains

The National Institutes of Health have released new data from a multisite research study, including snapshots of young children's brain chemistry at key times in development. Information and publications from the study are available at the NIH Pediatric MRI Data Repository website.

Personality May Affect the Brain's Aging

A new report by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis shows that people with more neurotic personalities tend to show faster brain aging.

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.

The Science of Early Childhood Development

A new interactive feature from Harvard University's Center on the Developing Child explains key concepts in brain development.

Sex Differences in the Brain

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

Stanford University study

Children's brains have the same basic architecture as adults', but portions that process complex information and decision-making become stronger with development.

Why We Can't Remember Our Infancy

This Dana Foundation news article highlights research on the phenomenon of "childhood amnesia", including developing evidence that even young infants show evidence of memory under certain conditions.

Zero to Three Baby Brain Map

Check out this interactive view of the baby's brain, with answers to common questions about early development.


Brain Disorders and Disabilities

ADHD and the Developing Brain

A new brain-imaging study at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) suggests that taking stimulants for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder may not have negative effects on the development of the cortex.

Adolescent ADHD and the Brain

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

Autism and the Amygdala

A new research study, reported in CNN, shows that the amygdala is an average of 13% larger than normal in children with autism.

Autism and the Brain

A recent study provides more evidence that autism may have a genetic basis.

Autism in Siblings

New research shows a higher risk of autism in siblings of a child with autism.

The Brain and Sensory Processing Disorder

A new study finds that children with sensory processing disorder (who struggle with processing stimulation) have clear differences in brain structure from typically-developing children.

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.

Catching Dyslexia Early May Stem Its Effects

A news report by the Dana Foundation explains how identifying dyslexia even before children are old enough to read can help families and professionals intervene early.

Children's Brains and Maternal Depression

Children of depressed mothers tend to have an enlarged amygdala.

Disorders that Appear in Childhood

The Dana Foundation's 2008 Progress Report on Brain Research includes a report highlighting scientific discoveries in 2007 that identified genetic bases of two common developmental disorders, autism spectrum disorder and AD/HD. The 2008 and 2009 Progress Reports are available from the Dana Foundation.

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.

Earlier Diagnosis and Treatment of Autism

Symptoms of autism may be seen in babies as young as 12 months.

Early Detection Helps Reduce Effects of Dyslexia

It's now possible to detect dyslexia in children too young to read.

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 recent research on maternal depression and child development.

Maternal Stress and Fetal Brain Development

Stress in expectant mothers can lead to changes in the fetus, at least in mice.

Memory and Attention in Premature Babies

Babies born at very low birth weight are more likely to have memory and attention problems as adults.

New Study of Brain Development in Children with Bipolar Disorder

Two faculty members at Brown University have received federal funding to study brain development in infants and children with bipolar disorder.

Pesticides and Attention Problems

Prenatal exposure to pesticides may be linked to attention problems in childhood.

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.

Research into Childhood Brain Disorders Still in Its Infancy

The Dana Foundation reports that scientists are just beginning to get a handle on how to study, diagnose and treat childhood brain disorders.

Reading Comprehension Process Differs in Children with Dyslexia

A fMRI study by Sheryl Rimrodt and Laurie Cutting and their team at the Kennedy Krieger Institute found that children with reading difficulties do not have the flexibility in their reading comprehension that typically developing readers do.

Screening for Childhood Disorders: Is There a Downside?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended that all infants be screened for autism spectrum disorders (ASD). It's a necessary step in identifying and treating the disorder early — but there are questions about the potential for overdiagnosis with widespread screening.

Serotonin and SIDS

The article cites a study which examines how serotonin levels affected anxiety-related behavior in mice when surprised.  Researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Monterotondo, Italy, found that nearly three quarters of mice died before tuning four months old due to sudden drop in heart rate.  They view that it occurs when serotonin activity cannot ramp up.  The findings showed that sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) can be prevented by regulating abnormal serotonin feedback. Reference: Wenner, M. (2008).  Serotonin and SIDS.  Scientific American Mind (19)5, 8.

Sports Concussions and the Developing Brain

Research shows that children's brains may be more vulnerable to head injuries that we realized.

Supporting Brain Development in Traumatized Children

New publication from the Child Wefare Information Gateway.

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.

Working Intensely Early on May Help Autistic Kids

An intensive early intervention program for toddlers with autism boots children’s IQ, language, and social skills, according to a new report in Pediatrics.




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

Adults' Brains and Infant-Directed Speech

New insights on how parents and non-parents process language directed at infants.

The Brain and Spoken Language

New information about how the brain strings words together into sentences.

The Brain Treats Sign Language Like Speech

New research from San Diego State University finds that the brain processes spoken language and sign language in very similar ways.

Early Language Learning

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

Folic Acid and Language Development

Children whose mothers take folic acid supplements early in pregnancy and have a lower risk of severe language delays.

Newborn Brain May Be Wired for Speech

French researcher Ghislaine Dehaene-Lambertz is conducting ongoing research that suggests our brains may be wired for speech, long before we can even begin to speak or comprehend language.  This news article highlights several recent studies about the brain and early language development.

Newborns Cry with an Accent

ABC news reports on a new study Current Biology, suggesting that newborn infants' cries have the same melody as their native 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.

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.

Speaking and Understanding Language

Our abilities to speak and to understand speech share parts of the brain.



Physical Well-Being

Folic Acid and Language Development

Children whose mothers take folic acid supplements early in pregnancy and have a lower risk of severe language delays.

Long-Term Benefits of Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding longer is linked to increased adult intelligence and higher adult earnings, according to a new study following babies from birth through age 30.

Wired for Hunger: The Brain and Obesity

According to this Dana Foundation news report, researchers are beginning to identify brain circuitry responsible for "eating" messages that may contribute to obesity in today's society.




Attachment and Relationships

Young Children in an Environment of Relationships

This working paper, released by the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, summarizes the most current 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.

New report: Parenting Education is Economic Development

This report from the Partnership for America's Economic Success explains why the nation’s economic health and well-being are enhanced when
parents know how to nurture children's developing brains. Read the research brief or the full report.




Arts Training May Improve Children's Attention and Cognition

Getting involved in an art form that captures children's interest may help strengthen the wiring of the brain's attention systems.

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.

Effects of Stress on the Developing Brain

Check out this research report on stress and brain development from the Dana Foundation.

Poverty and the Brain: News from the Frontier

This news release from the Dana Foundation highlights research on connections between poverty and poor school performance. The research looks at the connections between poverty and early experiences, brain development, IQ scores, and school performance.

Poverty and the Brain

A recent study in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience has shown differences in prefrontal cortex development between children from low and higher socioeconomic levels.

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.

Stress Affects the Brain's Architecture

An article by Dorian Friedman highlights the importance of a nurturing, supportive environment to protect young children against the harmful effects of stress.

The Stress of Poverty Affects Childhood Brain Development

The link between low income, low parental education, and poor school achievement is well-documented. But what is it about poverty and low parent education that leads to children having more problems in school and later in life? The Harvard Institute's On the Brain explains recent research.



Public Policy and Brain Development

Brain Development and TANF Reauthorization

Zero to Three has used brain development research to create an advocacy tool to help polcy makers think more clearly about TANF reauthorization.

Early Brain Development and Preschool

This blog post summarizes an economist's paper about how preschool changes the brain, and emphasizes the importance of investing in preschool education

Early Childhood Development and Public Policy podcast

Listen to a podcast by pediatrician Dr. Jack Shonkoff, director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. He explains the impact of early experience on brain development and the implications for public policy.