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09-09-13, 04:18 PM
Childhood Experience and the Expression of
Genetic Potential: What Childhood Neglect Tells
Us About Nature and Nurture


Abstract. Studies of childhood abuse and neglect have important lessons for considerations of nature and nurture.

While each child has unique genetic potentials, both human and animal studies point to important needs that every child has, and severe long-term consequences for brain function if those needs are not met.

The effects of the childhood environment, favorable or unfavorable, interact with all the processes of neurodevelopment (neurogenesis, migration, differentiation, apoptosis, arborization, synaptogenesis, synaptic sculpting, and myelination).

The time courses of all these neural processes are reviewed here along with statements of core principles for both genetic and environmental influences on all of these processes.

Evidence is presented that development of synaptic pathways tends to be a “use it or lose it” proposition.

Abuse studies from the author’s laboratory, studies of children in orphanages who lacked emotional contact, and a large number of animal deprivation and enrichment studies point to the need for children and young nonhuman mammals to have both stable emotional attachments with and touch from primary adult caregivers, and spontaneous interactions with peers.

If these connections are lacking, brain development both of caring behavior and cognitive capacities is damaged in a lasting fashion.

These effects of experience on the brain imply that effects of modern technology can be positive but need to be monitored.

While technology has raised opportunities for children to become economically secure and literate, more recent inadvertent impacts of technology have spawned declines in extended families, family meals, and spontaneous peer interactions.

The latter changes have deprived many children of experiences that promote positive growth of the cognitive and caring potentials of their developing brains.


09-09-13, 04:26 PM
Archeology first documents evidence of written language 5000 years ago in the Middle East.

The genetic potential for humankind to learn and use written language had been present, but unexpressed, for 200,000 years prior to the first invention of written language.

One thousand years ago, less than 1% of the population of Western Europe could read.

Essentially all of the population had the genetic potential to learn to read yet this potential remained untapped until the advent of universal public education.

In 1211, Frederick II, Emperor of Germany, in an attempt to discover the natural “language of God,” raised dozens of children in silence.

God’s preferred language never emerged; the children never spoke any language and all ultimately died in childhood (van Cleve, 1972)

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