A new study reveals that early life experiences greatly influence the functional and biological development of the brain. The team of neuroscientists carried out this study on rodents and it showed different learning and cognitive abilities affected by early life experiences. It shows that the changes in brain development are mainly depended on the nature of an individual’s early life experiences.
Cristina Alberini who is a senior author and a professor in the New York University’s Center for Neural Science said that many factors play role in bringing the changes to brains development such as the role of education, environmental influences on mental health, the impact of a social system and the significance of poverty. The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.
Benjamin Bessieres who is co-lead author of the paper and a postdoctoral researcher added with the words of Alberini that the results of the study proposed the potential therapeutic interventions. If the critical time for brain development would be identified then it becomes easy to know the best time for applying the behavioral, pharmaceutical or any other interventions.
The mechanism about the development of memory and learning abilities is not well known. This study throws light on this process and studies the biological elements related to episodic memories. By studying infants of rats and mice it was thought that specific life events and experiences have a great impact on these memories.
During the experiment, scientists tried to know the specific factors or experiences that involved in the maturation of the learning and cognitive abilities.
In the first experiment, the scientists placed the infant rats and mice in a small compartment. It is a procedure that is paired with a mild foot shock, the most common method used for testing the memory for the context. The memory of infant rats and mice was being tested by placing them back in the compartments if they show some hesitation then it is a sign that they developed a memory for previous compartments.
In other experiments, the scientists showed objects to the infant mice and rats and observed their memory regarding this. When the objects were placed at a combination of new and old locations, they showed more exploration because of having the natural tendency to explore new locations for the object. The same memory system is involved in storing the experiences for both object location and context.
Here Author raised two questions. The first question that asked, “does learning play a role in the maturation of memory abilities?”
Scientists give the answer to this question is ‘yes’. The results showed that learning experiences cause the maturation of the brain at both levels i.e. functional and biological levels. Young mice learn these experiences more easily as compared to old mice and showed unique biological changes in the brain. The biological changes were not seen in older mice. They observed maturation in the hippocampus, it is a region of the brain that forms the memory about any experience of life.
The second question that was asked, “does one type of experience cause the maturation of the whole memory system and its related abilities?”
Scientists found that one type of experience does not produce any effect on other learning abilities and vice versa. In short, the maturation of memory and learning abilities is specified for the type of experiences a person had in his early life.
Alberini and Bessieres further added their words that in older age the biological changes in brain maturation were not occurred along with episodic learning. So, it is clear that there some different mechanisms in the brain of infants that form and store memories. Functional maturation of the brain (expression of long-term memory) highly linked with this biological maturation.
The results of the study showed that individual differences in learning and memory abilities are linked to specific experiences that one may face during the early stages of life. Although all the people must expose to general facts of the environment such as people, time, things and spaces so it produces a wide range of learning and memory abilities that are formed by the memory system. Selective abilities mature due to the history of individual related to early life experiences.
Our abilities like thinking, planning, decision making power, future learning, problem-solving, imagining, reflecting and capacity of forming a sense of self are connected memory formation. So early life experiences are important and critical for the development of the brain later in life.