The impact of environment on the growth of children has been a frequently discussed issue. A study which has been carried out over the course of two decades has now revealed that when a kid is surrounded by toys that are educational and books at an early, this will leave a fingerprint in the child’s brain well into their teens. The mental stimulation that the child gets at the age of four has been found to be particularly influential in the development of the cognitive and language centers of the brain in the decades to come. With so many things being made for children, these kinds of studies may help us to better understand what we should surround our children with.

It has long been accepted that experiences that children have in the early years have an effect on their later mental development. This however has mostly been observed in negative experiences like in cases where a child gets abused or suffers some trauma. In this study however, director of the center for neuroscience and Society at the University of Pennsylvania, Martha Farah, was trying to find out how experiences in a child’s life that are usually considered normal would have on their brain development.

Two Decades of Study

The study was carried out by taking data that was obtained from surveys that detailed the home lives of 64 participants. It also included brain scans of the same individuals that had been carried out over a 20 year period. The study showed that the age of four was key and the cognitive stimulation that was received at this age affected the development of certain portions of the cortex around 15 years later. The cortex is a grey matter layer that is found outside the brain.

Those who took part in this study had been tracked from the age of four. Since that time the researchers had paid visits to their homes and taken down certain details about their lives. Details that were of particular interest included the books for children, toys that taught about numbers, colors and letters and interaction with toy or real musical instruments. Parental nurturance was also taken into account. This same survey was repeated at the age of eight. The participants’ brains scans were obtained when they were between the ages of 17 and 19 years.

The results of the study

The results that Farah obtained pointed to the cognitive stimulation at the age of four being quite influential in the cortex development. Other factors such as the nurturance and cognitive stimulation at eight years did not have any effect. According to Farah, these results pointed to there being a sensitive period during the early years and this is what determined how the cortex would eventually develop. The area that was most affected is just behind the ear on the surface of the brain and this is called the lateral left temporal cortex. This is the portion that affects the semantic memory, general knowledge and ability to process the meanings of words. According to Farah, these results just point to how important the early childhood years are and why kids should be cared for well in this period.