The Fifth Annual Aspen Brain Forum convened last week in New York City, at the New York Academy of Sciences’ new headquarters in World Trade Center’s seventh tower, from November 11-13, 2014, an event sponsored by the journals Science, The Lancet, and Nature, and promoted by partners such as the Dana Foundation, Society for Neuroscience, Abbott Laboratories and Nutrition who also provided catering. Guests included a host of neurosurgeons, psychiatrists and doctors, as well as education and healthcare professionals from around the world. The topic: Shaping the Developing Brain: Prenatal through Early Childhood. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave the talk’s opening remarks via satellite on behalf of the Clinton Foundation and hailing the hard work of the conference’s speakers as crucial to the success of future generations.
In recent years, it’s become accepted that the first three years are the most crucial to child development, a concept further explored by those attending the conference as speakers and panelists. Not only is this fact a matter of concern to psychologists and educators, but now evidence is being further confirmed by recent developments in neuroscience, where researchers continue to gather evidence that the brain is a social organism, dependent on forming connections with others for the benefit of learning and developing skills. The seminar emphasized not only the significance of a myriad of recent breakthroughs in contemporary neurobiology, but also the importance of policymakers worldwide who are scientifically literate, for modern science to be the agent of change, a means that allow working professionals to see beyond political differences in order to create a better world.
The development of language begins at an age when children are only imitating basic sounds, allowing them to adapt to a number of new languages in their infancy, according to new research conducted by Patricia K. Kuhl of the Institute of Learning & Brain Sciences. The initial stage is a window of several months before the infants begin to respond to one single language communicated by their caregivers – knowledge that may make great strides in education. The negative impact of poverty on the human brain, particularly on its early development, a problem pursued by Harvard Medical School, has also been brought to light, leading more pediatricians and child care experts than ever to realize that world poverty is now their problem, one that they must join the effort to fight against. Even basic nutrition and dietary needs can also have a positive impact on child development, according to the panelists.
In addition to over thirty speakers in various scientific and psychological disciplines lecturing and speaking on panels, the convention also presented the posters from a myriad of dedicated researchers around the world who were also investigating topics on early childhood development and the brain, topics that ranged from attachment theory to the impact of iron deficiency and water sanitation on early childhood development. Speakers and organizers also networked closely between conference breaks, in which they discussed each others’ work and also addressed questions set by members of the press.
–By James Sullivan