Image Credit: Slate, 2003
Wendy Swire reporting on Better Brains…. This past November, active Neuro-Education discussion took place in downtown Washington, DC at the Society of Neuroscience Annual convention. I was joined at the conference by over 20,000 of the world’s top neuroscientists, who carefully clutched their laptops and poster displays of their cutting-edge brain science research. As this was my first SFN conference I was pleased to see many sessions filled on issues pertaining to children and education, such as panels on memory, learning, attention and neurodevelopmental disorders like autism or ADHD .
One conference topic in particular caught my eye for my first BIS blog — the impact of stress on childrens’ brains and learning. Perhaps it is because my one teenage son is under tremendous pressure this year in high school. I watch him navigate getting good grades, taking standardized tests and pray that he will get 6-7 hours of sleep each night. I was looking for research to validate my own “mom-based”, non-scientific hypothesis that today’s children are under increasing educational and personal anxiety.
I was pleased to learn about the work of a young researcher, Jaime Hanson from University of Wisconsin/Madison, who is attempting to bridge the disciplines of affective neuroscience and developmental psychology. Hanson’s FMRI study indicates that stress and early life adversity may affect emotional brain circuitry, including brain networks labeled PFC, hippocampus and amygdala. Hanson’s latest work shows that smaller amygdala volumes were associated with higher levels of stress in children and maltreatment. Hanson’s previous work focused on the the development orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) in children given its primacy in emotion and social regulation. As Hanson notes: ‘When the OFC is disrupted, it confers an increased vulnerability for the development of mental health in later life.’ This research caught my eye because it suggests a biological basis of behavior linking early social to later behaviorial outcomes.
How much increased stress is being placed on kids by our educational system? It seems like the pressure to excel at national exams and “teaching to the test” is happening at younger ages. Shrinking educational budgets put additional strain on hardworking teachers working in already overcrowded classrooms. There must be some tension when thirty 1st graders are in a classroom learning to read but only helped with one teacher. Fortunately, Bodies in Space is here to ask you to join us in thinking about ways to innovate and create breakthroughs in classroom that will minimize stress on young minds today.
For more info on Hanson’s research click here: