PSY 201 Discussion Environmental Influences on The Brain Development

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PSY 201 Discussion Environmental Influences on The Brain Development

Development of the brain is influenced by nature and nurture. Give two examples of how “nurture” (experience, environmental influences) can impact brain development in either a positive or adverse way. Support your statements with findings from a scholarly research article (s). Cite your reference(s).

DQ2 Critical Periods

What is meant by the term, “critical period” as it refers to development? Discuss how the concept of critical periods applies to various aspects of physical, brain, and perceptual development. In terms of brain development, how have research findings on neuroplasticity changed our views about the rigidity imposed by critical periods? Support your response with findings from scholarly research. Cite your reference(s).

PSY 201 Discussion Environmental Influences on The Brain Development

PSY 201 Discussion Environmental Influences on The Brain Development

The human brain develops over an extended period; its maturation continues through adolescence and young adulthood [1,2,3]. Studying trajectories of brain development in representative samples of the general population is important in order to understand exposures and stressors in the child’s and adult’s physical and social environment that shape human brain development [2,3,4]. Early environments may be particularly important in their impact on mental health, learning and behavior in human societies [2,3]. In this context, it is important – for both theoretical and practical reasons – to measure trajectories of brain development in large population-based epidemiological studies [2,5].

Researchers with expertise in environmental epidemiology, neuropsychology, psychiatry and developmental cognitive neuroscience contributed to a 2-day scientific debate convened in Barcelona during October 2014. The debate focused on neuroimaging and neuropsychological approaches for the assessment of brain and cognition in typically developing children and adolescents and the challenges of assessing environmental exposure for studies carried out in the general population. The ultimate goal was to generate a consensus about the importance of population-based studies that integrate information across different levels: molecular (e.g., biochemical, genetic), systems (e.g., structural and functional neuroimaging and cognitive assessments) and populations (e.g., air pollution) [2]. The debate covered 3 strategic areas: (a) environmental pollution and population science, (b) measures of brain development and (c) future directions and conclusions.

Environmental Pollution and Population Science
There are about 214 chemicals that have been documented in clinical and epidemiological studies as having neurotoxic properties, mainly in adults. Only 12 of these have been properly examined with regards to their effects on human brain development; this is because most of the other chemicals have not been explored specifically in pregnant women and children, and/or we have only limited data on exposures to these chemicals at the population level. The evidence available on these 12 substances suggests that adverse impacts on brain development can happen at much lower exposures than those that affect the mature brain [3]. Nonetheless, the present documentation [3] almost certainly underestimates the real number of chemicals affecting neurodevelopment. In consequence, there is a need to develop screening methods that are validated against epidemiologic data in their prediction of neurotoxicity. It has been hypothesized that many untested neurotoxic chemicals may be responsible for a ‘silent pandemic’, in which early life exposures are causing multiple neurodevelopmental disorders, costing billions of dollars annually to our societies [3].

Longitudinal measures of brain development – whether neuropsychological or neuroimaging – provide insights into typical trajectories against which one can evaluate the possible impact of adverse physical or social environments. Multimodal MRI is non-invasive and provides detailed information about brain structure and function [2]. For example, a recent MRI study has identified an association between prenatal exposure to air pollutants (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and the development of brain white matter, cognition and behavior [9]. Similarly, computerized neuropsychological tests performed repeatedly over time have shown association with air pollution in school age children [6]. Moreover, the recent inclusion of computerized tests has reduced inter-observer variability during assessment, and such neuropsychological functions are recorded automatically preventing errors in the act of data collection [6].

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