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Neuroscience and Child Development – Psychology Essay

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Updated: May 11th, 2020

The topic of the Study

Findings in neuroscience have important roles to play in childhood development. Stakeholders should use such findings to develop appropriate policies that account for social challenges with detrimental impacts on the development of children. Such studies have included several years of research across various disciplines to understand toxic stress, brain functions, and their relationships with child development. Therefore, there is a greater need for collaboration and utilization of findings from neuroscience in the development of policies to enhance life outcomes for children, particularly those who have experienced effects of toxic stress and other significant childhood adversities like poverty. It is believed that effective adoption of findings from neuroscience studies could help policy development and inform policymakers on appropriate interventions that could lead to healthier children.

This literature review focuses on the application of neuroscience developments to improve childhood development through policymaking and effective implementation to improve child health and life outcomes.

Summary of Professional Readings

Various studies have established that neuroscience study findings could be used to develop appropriate policies for childhood development. Such studies contend that adoption of scientific findings into policy childhood policy development could lead to healthier lives and society.

Shonkoff and Levitt (2010) noted that there is a need for greater collaboration between findings in neuroscience and the development of innovative childhood policies to transform lives and ensure a healthier society. Such policies must account for significant adversities in the lives of children. In this regard, the adoption of neuroscience findings in the development of new childhood theories and policies could lead to enhanced interventions for improved life outcomes. Several gains have been achieved in the field of neuroscience and other fields of biological sciences after several decades. For some stakeholders, the key priority has been to utilize the findings to enhance learning and skill acquisition among children in the early years of development (Shonkoff & Levitt, 2010). On the other hand, others have expressed their wish to use the new findings in mitigating the effects of adverse early experiences to “prevent developmental impairment” (Shonkoff & Levitt, 2010). In both cases, all these stakeholders have shown that the use of neuroscience findings in developing sound early childhood policies could be highly effective and beneficial.

In this regard, Shonkoff and Levitt (2010) have pointed that long-term adoption of neuroscience findings to inform public policy development for children needs a critical reorientation from the normal focus on simple issues to highly complex challenges. These researchers believe that the current findings are adequate to confront existing challenges. At the same time, they also realize that highly complex issues will arise over time, which will require further augmentation. A significant number of stakeholders, including policymakers, have understood early childhood developmental processes. For instance, they understand that developmental processes go beyond the defined genetic compositions and entail environmental factors. As a result, critical early adversity could result in lifelong impacts on child behaviors, health, and learning.

Therefore, the current challenges for individuals who wish to adopt neuroscience findings for early childhood policy development are complex. For instance, they must now focus on issues that explore “what” can be done and “how” it can be done to improve the outcomes of current interventions and policies. This focus could help young children who experienced toxic stress in their earlier years of childhood.

Studies have established that toxic stress has negative impacts on children. Children who experienced toxic stress during early childhood could experience developmental and physical conditions alongside cognitive problems later in adulthood. Stress, therefore, could have both short-term and long-term effects that threaten lifelong developmental stages and therefore require preventative interventions.

The major challenge has been that many policymakers may not know the possible lifelong impacts of childhood developmental disruptions. At the same time, there are also critical neuroscience concepts that have been established through research findings, which could have significant implications for policy development. First, there are hierarchical nature of problem interventions from simple to complex; second, there are neurobiology concepts that have defined skills building from simple to complex; third, there is a defined hierarchy of interaction among cognitive, emotional and social development; and fourth, the decline brain plasticity over time. These are fundamental concepts that require effective communication to policymakers so that these concepts can provide compelling reasons for public initiatives into early childhood development and intervention to safeguard children from “the anatomical, molecular, and physiological disruptions that can be associated with excessive or prolonged activation of the stress response” (Shonkoff & Levitt, 2010).

Hackman and Farah (2009) asserted that “childhood socioeconomic status (SES) is associated with cognitive achievement throughout life” (p. 65). The most important issue to explore is how brain development relates to SES and how SES may assert its influences on childhood development. The authors reviewed past studies in “behavioral, electrophysiological and neuroimaging methods, which have been used to understand SES impacts on neurocognitive developments and functions” (Hackman & Farah, 2009). The study shows that SES is an essential element in understanding neurocognitive performance, more so in language functions.

In addition, SES variations have been identified in neural activities, even in situations where performance levels are the same. Hackman and Farah (2009) show that there is a basic implication from cognitive neuroscience studies, which policymakers may use for comprehending and solving challenges related to childhood poverty and other adversities. Likewise, the study has recognized the need to conduct further research so that neuroscience can solve specific challenges regarding cognitive and child development and the influence of environmental factors (Hackman & Farah, 2009).

Interventions are necessary to combat challenges in low-SES communities. They can provide opportunities for researchers to test their findings on real-life situations. Researchers should encourage the adoption of such findings in developing interventions because the outcomes are highly encouraging. At the same time, neurological methods should be applied in evaluating the effectiveness of interventions, particularly in areas in which there are ongoing interventions to influence SES levels.

By evaluating and understanding SES within the model of cognitive neuroscience, researchers and policymakers have the potential to address various challenges in society and improve the understanding of the human brain and its functions. There are opportunities to define SES disparities that affect cognitive capabilities. This will result in a better understanding of SES disparities and their impacts on cognitive functions. In addition, policymakers can formulate appropriate interventions for many challenges that affect childhood developmental processes. Currently, the available studies have shown that normal brain is highly variable and specialized in functions. Hackman and Farah (2009) have concluded that it is imperative to understand human brain functions and developmental processes. In addition, socioeconomic differences are relevant for understanding cognitive neuroscience processes.

Shonkoff and Fisher have expressed their opinions about the new role of biology in early childhood policy and practice (Shonkoff & Fisher, 2013). This requires the development of new early childhood intervention methods based on science and driven by evidence instead of quality improvement initiatives. The authors suggested that “better child outcomes could result from hybridized two-generation approaches instead of simply linking separate child-focused and adult-focused services” (Shonkoff & Fisher, 2013). This suggests that science should play a significant role in providing evidence to support policy development from childhood to adulthood developmental processes. At the same time, they also encourage other researchers to provide their findings that failed to reflect positive outcomes but rather had significant insights that could generate fresh approaches and thinking. In this regard, Shonkoff and Fisher recognize that interventions can only be achieved through experimentation, supporting responsible risk-taking, and learning from failure (Shonkoff & Fisher, 2013).

Overall, the researchers conclude that policymakers should rise beyond quality improvement and focus on generating new ideas for facilitating child and adult development. This should be an integrated process with the potential to produce a significant impact. In addition, researchers and policymakers should leverage findings in “social and biological sciences to understand the underlying factors that influence behavior, learning and health outcomes, and disparities” (Shonkoff & Fisher, 2013). At the same time, this study emphasizes that the focus on childhood intervention no longer requires generic approaches that generally declare the need for further research. In this regard, revolutions in life sciences in various fields such as neurobiology, molecular biology, genomics, and epigenetics have presented opportunities for understanding the underlying factors in human health and development (Shonkoff & Fisher, 2013).

Shonkoff (2014) highlights that results from social and biological sciences have shown that the periods between conception and school entry are critical because they present both opportunities and significant risks to children. As a result, there are several interventions, which focus specifically on the possible causes of lifelong disparities and affect health, behavior, and learning. Results from such interventions have shown positive outcomes. However, there are variations in program implementation, as well as outcomes. Shonkoff shows that results from these interventions have been positive (Shonkoff, 2014). Nevertheless, they have often reflected small to moderate outcomes. As a result, there is a need to adopt different approaches to “early childhood investment that catalyzes innovation, seeks far greater impacts, and views best practices as a baseline, not a solution” (Shonkoff, 2014).

Fox, Levitt, and Nelson III (2010) noted that early life events have greater influences on “both the pattern of brain architecture and behavioral development” (p. 28). The researchers have observed that such early experiences have the ability to get “under the skin” and affect childhood development. In this regard, the genetic component provides a foundation for brain development. Brain development and functions are extremely important during the early stages of childhood. Hence, many studies have focused on early events and sensitive periods. Nevertheless, later life experiences also have critical influences on adulthood development (Fox et al., 2010).

There are a continuous series of different interactions, which include individual and environmental experiences. These factors have significant influences on genetic predisposition and brain development. Since certain experiences have specific impacts on brain development at a given period of childhood development (sensitive period), it is imperative to understand these stages and ensure children have positive experiences.

There is also stress in developmental processes. Positive stress can promote growth and development in children. However, toxic stress, such as chronic poverty, poor health, family violence, mental impairment, child negligence, depression, and alcoholism, experienced in early childhood could be highly detrimental to brain development and affect learning and behaviors. In addition, toxic stress may also make an individual prone to mental and physical illnesses. Managing toxic stress could be highly challenging, just like other environmental risks. Therefore, it is important to address its root causes. Socioemotional and cognitive elements are inextricably linked while behavior, learning, physical, and cognitive developments are also interrelated in various stages of human development. In this regard, policymakers must understand that interventions should address these areas simultaneously. At the same time, interventions are necessary as early as possible so that any potential toxic stress may be addressed before it results in detrimental outcomes. This will improve the life outcomes of children. Moreover, specialized interventions are necessary for various conditions, particularly for children who have experienced adversities beyond poverty.

Reaction and Classroom Application

This research literature review calls for a more robust application of scientific findings into policymaking to improve the life outcomes of children. In this regard, the development of childhood policy is undergoing significant changes, and therefore, it requires new scientific knowledge from neuroscience and other relevant fields to provide opportunities for improving interventions.

The need to develop credible scientific evidence that can influence effective policy formulation for reducing impacts of early childhood adversity starts with the focus on new issues that affect contemporary society. Researcher, educators, and policymakers must evaluate important issues that involve leverage recent research findings to inform the design of new approaches to childhood adversity and toxic stress. Teachers should understand how early life experiences affect learning, social behaviors, physical and cognitive developments among their students. There are well-established reasons for policymakers and researchers to focus on different fields to develop effective interventions for early childhood development.

Teachers, educators, parents, and policymakers should recognize that there are sensitive periods during which adversities and toxic stress could have critical short-term and long-term impacts on children. These outcomes may affect cognitive, social, emotional, and language competencies. While interventions are necessary, it is important for policymakers to understand the appropriate time for introducing such interventions. Moreover, they must also demonstrate how to sustain such interventions. Interventions could result in different outcomes for various groups based on childhood experiences. While many interventions have focused on single risk factors, many issues that fact children are interrelated. Therefore, thorough studies and evaluation of outcomes can help in improving existing interventions and formulating new ones with appropriate evaluation tools to determine their short-term and long-term effectiveness.

Researchers should ensure continuous studies and data collection to understand the impacts of adversity on children. Various fields of studies, particularly behavioral, biological, and social sciences, have provided detailed accounts on developmental stages, healthy development, and factors that could affect it. Educators should understand how genetic and environmental factors interact to affect brain development and subsequent health, learning, and behaviors of learners. In other words, genes are responsible for establishing a foundation for brain development, but environmental factors or childhood experiences determine further brain development, and together, they affect the outcome.

Families and societies have their parts to play in offering the support and experiences that children require to ensure healthy development. Public policies, however, have failed to develop and promote healthier environments for child development for positive impacts. In this regard, policymakers should understand various findings and advances in neuroscience. Such results could assist in developing sound and appropriate interventions. Emotional and behavioral factors play critical roles in the development of early literacy skills. Given the new results from studies, it is necessary to develop appropriate interventions that rely on public policies to facilitate mass adoption. A greater understanding of factors that influence body and brain functions is necessary to ensure that appropriate policies are developed and adopted at the right time.

The adoption of neuroscience study results to formulate public policies that promote healthy childhood development could be challenging. While recent studies have shown improvements in terms of outcomes and result presentation, many policymakers do not understand how to inculcate such findings in policy development. While past studies helped in developing sound foundations for understanding developmental processes, there is a need to adopt new evidence from neuroscience that explains the relationship between gene and environment. This approach will provide opportunities for appropriate interventions.

Educators, researchers, and other stakeholders should highlight the need for investment in vulnerable populations with the aim of protecting early childhood development. Failures in policies have led to toxic stress that has affected early child development. As a result, the community must now bear costs related to clinical management, remedial education and training, and public aid because interventions were not adopted at the right moment. Overall, findings in neuroscience could enhance creativity and thinking in the formulation of policies to ensure greater social and economic developments among the most vulnerable.

References

Fox, S., Levitt, P., & Nelson III, C. (2010). How the Timing and Quality of Early Experiences Influence the Development of Brain Architecture. Child Development, 81(1), 28–40. Web.

Hackman, D., & Farah, M. (2009). Socioeconomic status and the developing brain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(2), 65–73. Web.

Shonkoff, J. P. (2014). Changing the Narrative for Early Childhood Investment. JAMA Pediatrics, 168(2), 105-106. Web.

Shonkoff, J., & Fisher, P. (2013). Rethinking Evidence-Based Practice and Two- Generation Programs to Create the Future of Early Childhood Policy. Development and Psychopathology, 25(4, part 2), 1635–1653. Web.

Shonkoff, J., & Levitt, P. (2010). Neuroscience and the Future of Early Childhood Policy: Moving from Why to What and How. Neuron, 67(5), 689–691. Web.

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