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Neuroscience

Brain Development 

Brain architecture is comprised of billions of connections between individual neurons across different areas of the brain. And this neural network is constructed from the bottom up–the first few years comprise of the simple and basic architectural design of the brain begins before birth and bleeds into adulthood.

Introduction

Brain architecture is comprised of billions of connections between individual neurons across different areas of the brain. And this neural network is constructed from the bottom up–the first few years comprise of the simple and basic architectural design of the brain begins before birth and bleeds into adulthood. In the first few years of a baby’s life, more than one million new neural connections form per second. Then through pruning, the connections start reducing to become more efficient. Since new connections form literally every second and the unused connections continue to be pruned, it is a mere impossibility to begin to understand what percentage of the brain is developed at what age. This article is going to cover the architecture of brain development over the years of a child’s birth. 

Importance of early childhood experiences

Since early brain neural networks are created very early on in age, the connections that form early provide either a strong or weak foundation for the connections that form later. This is why the experiences that a child goes through at these early ages very strongly affects the way these networks or connections are made and what they entail. Through the Bobo Doll experiment, we notice that children learn from the actions of the adults or/and authoritative figures surrounding them. This means that if a child is in exposure with a stable adult and a stable environment, the factors of this environment is going to positively affect the neural networks being formed in the child’s brain. Further, this has some weight on the networks that will be built in further ages as well, due to the fact that the connections formed early on provides a strong or weak foundation for the connections that form later on in age. In contrast, as a result of unresponsive or unreliable or inappropriate caregiving to the child, the brain’s architecture will not build as expected and this can result in learning and behavioural disparities at later ages.

A healthy brain

The health of the brain starts existing before the birth of the baby. For example, the more obvious and well-known and regarded habits that can positively affect the baby’s brain is nutrients and good food. If the mother is consuming these, along with the right amounts of folic acid, the pregnancy is considered to go smooth, as well as the baby’s nervous system is considered to be healthy. Another example is how vaccinations can protect the mother from infections that may harm the unborn baby’s brain. 

Some other factors that can negatively affect the baby’s brain are Cytomegalovirus or Zika virus, by exposure to toxins, including from smoking or alcohol, or when pregnant mothers experience stress, trauma, or mental health conditions like depression, and phenylketonuria (PKU). 

At birth, the brain of a baby is only about a quarter of the size of the adult brain. However, it doubles in size during year 1 of the child’s life. During year 3, the child’s brain grows to 80% of that of an adult brain. And with the physical growth of the brain, there are also several neural connections formed which is ultimately what makes the brain work.

The human brain is split up into three major layers: the hindbrain, the midbrain, and the forebrain. As the fetus develops, the grooves and folds in the neural tube deepen, hence giving rise to different layers of the brain: the telencephalon and diencephalon give rise to the forebrain, while the metencephalon and myelencephalon give rise to the hindbrain.

Hindbrain

The hindbrain consists of the cerebellum, reticular formation and brain stem, which further contains the pons and medulla oblongata. The hindbrain consists the evolutionarily oldest parts of the brain. 

Midbrain

The mid brain sort of connects the hindbrain to the frontal brain. It acts as a relay station due to the functionality: every motor and sensory information that passes through the forebrain and spinar cord passes through the midbrain.

Forebrain

The forebrain is the largest part and contains the most complex connections and networks in the Central Nervous System. The forebrain has two divisions: the diencephalon and the telencephalon. The diencephalon is the lower part and contains the thalamus and hypothalamus while the telencephalon is on top of the diencephalon and contains the cerebrum–the home of the highest-level cognitive processing in the brain. It is the large and complicated forebrain that distinguishes the human brain from other vertebrate brains.

(image): https://www.simplypsychology.org/forebrain-midbrain-hindbrain.html

Conclusion

This brings me to the end of the article, brain development. The article touches upon some of the initial developments during a child’s 0-3 years after which there are details of how the parts of the brain is formed and what each part signifies in the Central Nervous System. 

Neha Menon, Youth Medical Journal 2022

References

“Early Brain Development and Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 Feb. 2021, www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/early-brain-development.html.
“Brain Architecture.” Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, 20 Aug. 2019, developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/brain-architecture/.

By Neha Menon

Neha is a student from India who is passionate about psychology and neuroscience and loves researching on these topics. She hopes to build a career around clinical psychology.

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