Poverty, not brain development, behind family problems

Wednesday, 07 May, 2014

Patrick Butler reports in today's Guardian on claims that early childhood brain development is the main cause of later social problems. There is 'deep unease' among British researchers, he writes, over the 'use of neuroscience' and the related 'underplaying of poverty' to influence child protection policy.

He continues:

Eamon McCrory, a leading neuroscientist at University College London, says that two dominant narratives "unfortunately distort the debate" about neuroscience and early intervention: the first, that brain changes associated with adversity in the early years are necessarily irreversible ("this is simply not accurate"); second, the assumption that brain changes associated with early adversity necessarily always reflect "damage" (children's brains adapt to adverse environments, although that can predispose to later mental health problems, he says).

"Neuroscience has incredible potential to shed new light on a long-standing problem," says McCrory, "It can play a key role in helping us uncover mechanisms of vulnerability, linking early adversity and increased lifelong risk of mental and physical health problems. But it is not a privileged level of explanation."

The paper also carries of a profile of US philosopher John Bruer, who has criticised the 'wild extrapolations' from animal experimentation to claim that 'there are "critical periods" in early human brain development that "slam shut" after toddlerhood'.