brain development and stimulation

Laura J Miller ljmiller at
Sat Apr 26 01:11:50 EST 1997

The recent _Newsweek_ on children, "Birth to 3", had an
article about the effects/benefits of stimulation on
brain development.  Their take on it was that "short of
being raised in isolation, a baby will encounter enough
stimulation in most households to do the trick".  I've
seen the studies where rodents were raised in enriched (EE)
and nonenriched (NE) environments where they found that the EE
brains have many more synapses etc.  Of course,
the experiment utilized two extremes (deprived vs enriched), which
I guess contributed to the conclusion in the article (though
the article didn't go into the differences in the brain or
anything as technical-most of the "experts" were psychologists),
but everything I've learned about plasticity and brain 
development says that stimulation generates synaptic connections
and general brain growth.  I don't see how they can make their

So, what is the feeling in the neuroscience community?  Did anyone
else see this article?  Is an "adequate" level of stimulation
all that is necessary for maximal brain development during the
early years?  I have trouble believing that brain development
has such limited potential.  I think they used extremes such as
references to trying to develop an Einstein to make the concept
of stimulation seem excessive, instead of helping parents learn
how to best stimulate (though, still, their point was that nothing
extra is really necessary if they are not in a vacuum).

Some more of what the article said:
"Does any of this [back and white toys, Mozart CDs etc] really make a
difference?  Can you stimulate your child into becoming another Einstein? 
Not likely.  All of this obsessive parenting is based on the notion that a
baby properly stimulated will develop faster, learn languages or music
and all in all be a smarter kid."

" There's no evidence that specific kinds of toys or environments will
somehow speed up skills or groom a child for the Olympics. 'You could
stimulate until the cow comes home and it's not going to make any 
difference," says David Henry Feldman, a developmental psychologist
at Tufts University.  'Evolution has made sure that the baby's brain
is going to develop certain neural pathways.'"

"Researchers also caution parents against expecting that they can make
their kids smarter.  'The fact is, it's very very hard to raise anybody's
IQ,' says Edward Zigler, a Yale psychologist and a founder of Head Start."

Thanks for your input.  


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