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WIRED FOR LEARNING: EARLY BRAIN DEVELOPMENT AND LIFE SUCCESS Clancy Blair, PhD Department of Applied Psychology Steinhardt School of Culture, Education,

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Presentation on theme: "WIRED FOR LEARNING: EARLY BRAIN DEVELOPMENT AND LIFE SUCCESS Clancy Blair, PhD Department of Applied Psychology Steinhardt School of Culture, Education,"— Presentation transcript:

1 WIRED FOR LEARNING: EARLY BRAIN DEVELOPMENT AND LIFE SUCCESS Clancy Blair, PhD Department of Applied Psychology Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development New York University Departments of Psychology and Human Ecology and the Community ‐ University Partnership for the Study of Children, Youth, and Families at the University of Alberta January 22, 2013

2 The Science of Early Childhood  Effects of experience on children’s development  Effects of parenting and family  Effects of neighborhoods, schools, communities  The way in which the context in which child development takes places shapes children’s psychological and biological development

3 The Science of Early Childhood  General goals for children’s development  Skills and abilities that enable children to  Take initiative but also to comply  Be emotionally expressive, but also to regulate expression  To sustain attention and stay focused but also to run and play  To interact socially with other children and adults and to become conscientious

4 Self-Regulation  Self-regulation emerges from Other regulation  develops gradually from warm, sensitive interactions with primary caregivers beginning at birth

5 Warm, sensitive interactions

6 Self-Regulation  It also emerges from initial capabilities in infancy related to attention, emotion, and physiological characteristics

7 Attention

8 Emotion

9 Physiology

10 Executive Functions  Setting the stage for executive functions develop from infancy to adulthood  Progress in physiological, emotional, and attention are indicative of the healthy early development of executive functions


12 Executive Functions  Executive functions include working memory, inhibitory control, and the flexible shifting of the focus of attention  Executive functions are important for planning and problem solving and for regulating emotion – both increasing as well as decreasing emotion levels

13 Luria’s peg tapping task When I tap one time, you tap two times … …and when I tap two times, you tap one time. okay…alright … peg

14 Item selection task from Jacques and Zelazo (2001), Developmental Neuropsychology









23 Executive Functions  Executive functions are associated with prefrontal cortex (PFC) and as such dependent on levels of arousal in the limbic system associated with emotion and stress  When we experience stress, physiological systems produce chemicals that prepare the body and mind for response


25 Executive Functions  The limbic system controls levels of stress hormones, glucocorticoids and catecholamines that act as neuromodulators in prefrontal cortex  Moderate levels of glucocorticoids and catecholamines are associated with increased neural activity in PFC and higher level of EF  Low or high levels are associated with reduced neural activity and lower EF

26 Yerkes-Dodson EMOTION, ATTENTION, STRESS PHYSIOLOGY Complex learning, executive function Simple learning, reactivity, fear conditioning EXECUTIV E FUNCTION ABILITY

27 Executive Function Development  Prefrontal cortex is slow maturing area of the brain; development into young adulthood  Cells that “fire together, wire together”  The brain is developing over time in response to experience

28 Self-Regulation  Executive functions are essential for school readiness and school achievement  Could executive functions/self-regulation be a primary way in which poverty, early disadvantage affects children’s chances for success in school and in life?  If so, what can we do about it?

29 Self-Regulation  Several studies have shown that poverty affects levels of children’s stress physiology and partly through this mechanism, executive functions and school readiness

30 Executive Function at age 3 years Income-to- Need Ratio Maternal Education African American ethnicity Parenting Positive 7, 15, 24 mos Cortisol Baseline 7, 15, 24, mos Executive Functions 36 mos Parenting Negative 7, 15, 24 mos -.42*** -.32***.19*** -.46*** -.26***.14**,.34***,.27*** -.15**,.-26*** -.39*** Blair et al. (2011) Child Development IQ 36 mos -.27***.26***.15

31 Self-Regulation  Several studies have shown that self-regulation difficulty in childhood is related to self-regulation difficulty in adulthood

32 Self-Regulation in Childhood Predicts Later Life Outcomes Moffitt T E et al. PNAS 2011;108:2693-2698 ©2011 by National Academy of Sciences

33 What can we do about it?  Chicago School Readiness Project (Cybele Raver)  Teacher training and coaching by a mental health consultant to improve the emotional climate of the classroom, lower children’s level of conflict with peers, and lower teacher stress  Changing the climate should reduce self-regulation challenges for children and teachers, increase attention focus and executive function, and increase learning outcomes

34 CSRP: Impacts on Children’s Self-Regulation and Pre-Academic Skills SOURCE: Raver, Jones, Li-Grining, Zhai, Bub, & Pressler, 2008 NOTES: Significance levels are indicated as * p < 0.10; ** p < 0.05; *** p < 0.01.

35 CSRP Mediation Raver et al. (2011). Child Development.

36 Tools of the Mind  Program based on the work of Lev Vygotsky developed by Deborah Leong and Elena Bodrova  Designed to impact both self- regulation and to teach content skills in literacy and mathematics  An approach to teaching children that changes the way children learn


38 Tools of the Mind, EF, and academic ability from Diamond et al. (2007). Science

39 Tools of the Mind in Kindergarten  Children play games based on fictional narratives  Children follow a learning plan, complete a work product, and set learning goals

40 Play based on fictional narrative

41 Effects of Tools K

42 Effects on reading growth Fall K Spring KFirst grade


44 What about starting early?  Parenting programs  PALS - Play and Learning Strategies (Susan Landry)  the ABC program (Mary Dozier)  US Administration for Children and Families Early Head Start Partnership: Buffering Stress   Six independent studies to examine  Validation of the role of stress in the link between poverty and child outcomes  Implementation of strategies with primary caregivers in EHS to promote positive child outcomes  Efficacy of these strategies in RCTs

45 Conclusions and Implications  Community efforts can recognize the multiple influences (genes, physiology, emotion, cognition, parenting, schooling) in efforts to promote healthy child development  Research and theory suggest the importance of the regulation of stress; not that stress is inherently harmful but is something to be managed – controllable vs. uncontrollable  Education for children can be structured/enacted in ways that can promote healthy development

46 Executive Functions  Executive functions  …are dependent on effective self-regulation  …are likely one aspect of the SES related achievement gap  …are one common pathway through which child development intersects with home and school experiences

47 Fostering Self-Regulation  Early childhood experience must be understood in terms of process models not only as input-output models  Need to understand self-regulation, how children develop effective and meaningful ways of acquiring and using information  Providing children with experiences that help them become efficacious and self-directed

48 Collaborators and Funders Penn State University Mark Greenberg, PhD Doug Granger, PhD Cynthia Stifter, PhD Leah Hibel, PhD Katie Kivlighan, PhD Kristine Voegtline, PhD UNC Chapel Hill Lynne Vernon-Feagans, PhD Martha Cox, PhD Margaret Burchinal, PhD Mike Willoughby, PhD Patricia Garrett-Peters, PhD Roger Mills-Koonce, PhD Eloise Neebe, MA Laura Kuhn, MA Funding National Institute of Child Health and Human Development R03 HD39750, P01 HD39667, R01 HD51502 (ARRA) Institute of Education Sciences R305A100058 New York University Cybele Raver, PhD, Daniel Berry, PhD Alexandra Ursache, MA Eric Finegood Alyssa Pintar Rachel McKinnon Tools of the Mind Deborah Leong, PhD, Elena Bodrova, PhD Amy Hornbeck Barbara Wilder-Smith

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