Brain Development and Influencing Factors

The brain is not an organ that occurs in a single stage, in its mature form. Its architecture is built from the bottom up over time. Brain development begins in the womb when it is an embryo and continues until adulthood. In fact, at every moment of our lives, our brain adapts according to the stimuli it is exposed to, it makes new neural connections and weeds out what it does not use and forgets it. This ability is known as plasticity . The neural connections established in infancy and childhood also form the basis for the next period. The interaction of the child with his parents is the main factor affecting this basis.

Genetic and Environmental Factors

A single cell, formed by the union of sperm and egg, divides and reproduces to form the embryo. Our genes alone do not carry enough information to build a brain. Knowing the entire code of DNA, which contains 3 billion base pairs (letters), is not enough to predict the structure of the brain. Brain development depends on the interaction of genetic and environmental factors. Sensory stimuli and learning processes driven by experience strengthen some neural connections while weakening others. Environmental factors can also affect the way genes are expressed.

The curling of the embryo cells to form a hollow tube (neural tube) is the beginning of the nervous system. Newly formed cells differentiate into immature neurons. When the embryo is four weeks old, these cells migrate towards their targets, their dendrites and axons grow and begin to make their first synapses.

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Simple neural connections are established first, followed by more complex neural circuits. An excessive amount of neurons and synapses occurs in the embryo brain. It is estimated that more than one million neural connections are formed every second during the first years of life. After this rapid growth and development, connections are reduced by a process called pruning and brain circuits become more efficient. It is estimated that half of the neurons in the embryonic period die because they do not form useful connections.

myelination

Axons of some neurons carrying signals over long distances are isolated by helper cells , enabling faster and more efficient transport of signals. This is called myelination. A newborn baby has very little myelin. Myelination accelerates during infancy and is complete by adulthood. The myelination process is closely related to the development of mental and movement skills in the baby.

Brain development continues into adulthood. The prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for higher mental functions such as character, impulse control, and judgment, is the last maturing part.

Features of the Environment Conducive to Brain Development

Factors such as experiences, parent-child relationship, play, stress, hormones affect early brain development. The greatest chance of a child in terms of brain development is to have healthy parents who take care of him and show love. There is a close relationship between tactile, auditory and visual stimuli and brain development. The attitude of the parents shapes the baby’s lifelong responses to stress. In experiments on mice, it was observed that the brains of animals that grew up in a stressful environment were smaller, their prefrontal cortices were differentiated, and their game behaviors became abnormal. Growing up in a rich and complex environment has a positive effect on brain development, according to mouse experiments.

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Hormones also affect brain functions. Some of the differences in the emotions and behaviors of men and women are due to this. Of course, it is also important to have different life experiences.

The Most Important Time for Brain Development

Although the brain maintains its plasticity throughout life, the period in the womb and the first years of life is the most important time for brain development. Brain development is rapid until the third year. Early experiences influence lifelong responses. Many diseases and health problems are related to how the brain develops. This is why early interventions can make a big difference.

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