Thursday, May 03, 2007

How Brains Develop

Brief post today because we've got Jet Lag Brain after returning from that Learning & the Brain Conference in Boston. Some great presentations, but many reminders of the obstacles bridging the gap between neuroscience research findings and applications to classrooms or individual students.

Dr. Jay Giedd (NIMH) gave an informative and entertaining presentation about updates in our understanding of brain development. He showed the "bluing in" (myelination) of the brain that we blogged about previously in our post on Teen Brain, but the movie caught our attention by how late the superior temporal cortex (implicated in dyslexia) was to mature. More NIMH Child Psychiatry research articles can be found here.

In Giedd's recent child and adolescent brain development (pdf) paper, we also noted that if the curves for females and males were superimposed (assuming similar endpoints in adulthood), boys clearly were more likely to have a "late blooming" profile. This makes sense with the data that show that boys had slower processing times.

Other tidbits from Giedd's talk:

- the brain is highly heritable (0.8), from twin studies
- the cerebellum is the least heritable (0.5)
- cerebellar development highly influenced by environmental factors (especially during adolescence) (my aside: go training, sports, and therapy!)
- cerebellum important in many types of information processing and learning
(bike riding, matrix algebra, etc.)
- boys & girls more alike than different, but vary in trajectories during development
- genes are more predictive of trajectories and slopes than outcomes

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  1. Interesting tidbits! But, as someone with a particular interest in the cerebellum, I'm wondering if you could elaborate a little -- what is "go training?" What kind of "therapy?"

  2. We write these posts pretty quickly, so sorry if there are vague bits.

    Because the cerebellum is very vulnerable, many children have mild cerebellar dysfunction - and the data on cerebellar development suggests that there is a long course of development (into the 20's) and that it is particularly susceptible to environmental influence. In more plain talk, the more you work with it, the more you build it.

    Cerebellar training is involved with almost any skilled multi-stepped activity - whether it's piano, juggling, mastering long division, handwriting, or driving a car.

    Therapy can help train up the cerebellum, but many activities of daily living also do this. Most tasks that train the cerebellum require repetition to the point of automaticity (your cerebellum "thinks", so you don't have to...).