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Brain Scans Show the Impact of Neglect On a Child's Brain Size 206

An anonymous reader writes "A shocking comparison of brain scans from two three-year-old children reveals new evidence of the remarkable impact a mother's love has on a child's brain development. The chilling images reveal that the left brain, which belongs to a normal 3-year-old, is significantly larger and contains fewer spots and dark 'fuzzy' areas than the right brain, which belongs to that of a 3-year-old who has suffered extreme neglect. Neurologists say that the latest images provide more evidence that the way children are treated in their early years is important not only for the child's emotional development, but also in determining the size of their brains. Experts say that the sizeable difference in the two brains is primarily caused by the difference in the way each child was treated by their mothers."
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Brain Scans Show the Impact of Neglect On a Child's Brain Size

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  • by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @05:46PM (#41810899) Homepage Journal
    Were both children same sex, race....other variables with genetic implications?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 29, 2012 @05:56PM (#41811041)

      Exactly. How big a role has NUTRITION played in the two images? It would stand to reason that a 'severely neglected' child would also eat lower quality food.
      So let's skip the "lovey dovey" story for a moment and make sure we're not drawing the wrong conclusions here.

      • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @06:21PM (#41811363)
        Forget nutrition; with n=1, even random variation (i.e. something other than parents' gene pool, nutrition, or parenting) could account for it. The article mentions a study from UCLA, so probably there's more behind this than is included in the (very lame) article.

        Doing controlled studies of the effects of parental neglect in humans would require a horribly un-ethical study, but the findings in controlled studies of rats and monkeys [] have been consistent. Leaving your baby stuck in a crib all day until it forgets how to cry for help is not something you want to do.

        • Anybody with "research access" to an MRI (and especially fMRI) feels justified publishing findings of n=1 studies because their tool is so rare and unique.
          Newsflash: every strip mall in America has an MRI, and most hospitals have 3T these days, get over yourselves and go back to doing real science. n=1 is for birdwatchers, not developmental physiology.
        • by DesertJazz ( 656328 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @11:40PM (#41813883) Homepage

          There was actually a study conducted with real babies I believe in Canada... might have been US in the 1950's or so. They were given absolutely no nurturing at all, fed, changed, that was it. No stimulus was given. It was a terrible chapter in psychology that I remember reading about in college. It was eventually shut down after it went on far too long and the neglected children were permanently scarred from it. I can't seem to find the exact study right now, but it was a very visible and terrible result in those children. If MRI technology had been in use then I'm sure it would probably verify this study too.

      • by McGruber ( 1417641 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @06:26PM (#41811423)

        Exactly. How big a role has NUTRITION played in the two images? It would stand to reason that a 'severely neglected' child would also eat lower quality food.

        No offense, AC, but your viewing "NUTRITION" and mothering as being two different things makes it obvious that you have never parented a young child.

        FYI, a newborn requires feeding every 3 hours, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the first two months of their life. After about 8 or 9 weeks, if you are lucky, your child will (hopefully!) sleep for 5 to 6 hours at a time, so Mom can finally start getting more than 3 hours of sleep then. Furthermore, the experts also say that mom's breast milk is more nutritious than purchased formula and so a young child should be breast fed (by mom) for at least their first 6 months of life.

        • by Kielistic ( 1273232 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @09:26PM (#41813027)
          Which was exactly what the AC said. The neglected child would also probably not get the recommended nutrition. The issue was not that parents perform a necessary service. The issue was that nutrition was probably a larger contributor to poor development than how the infant was "treated by their mothers".

          It is misleading to say that "this study shows that children need momma's love more than anything else in the world" when it most likely boils down to "nutrition starved brain develops poorly". Probably get more attention from the former though- even Slashdot picked it up despite being hardly relevant and having no scientific merit.
          • by PlusFiveTroll ( 754249 ) on Tuesday October 30, 2012 @01:01AM (#41814365) Homepage

            Language and visual stimulation. I propose even if you gave the infant the correct nutrition while growing, withholding wider interaction with the world around them would have detrimental effect. When do you learn the most? As a child of course, from the day we are born our bodies systems begin a learning feedback loop. We lay the foundations of language in our minds. Our eyes learn to interpret the signals we receive. Our muscles begin to work in a coordinated manner. To pose this a different way, who would have better muscle tone? A. a person who eats cheetos and reads slashdot all day or, B. A person who works out three days a week a proper diet? Any rational person would answer B, because we need both good food and exercise to have a healthy body. Now take two people who eat healthy and work out, one lives in a calm stress free environment, the other in a high stress environment. Statistically, the person in a high stress environment will have a higher occurrence of disease. I would have to imagine that any environment where a child is neglected is going to cause stress on that child. From this (and some google-fu) we can posit these three things.

            A nutrition starved brain develops poorly.
            A neglected brain develops poorly.
            A stress flooded brain develops poorly.

            All three are very likely in a situation where a child would be neglected. We call it the maternal instinct (who knows if it is one in humans) to feed our children, to teach our children, and to soothe and calm our children. The parents with these traits are more likely to have sane children that will be around to spawn another generation.

        • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
          Another reason for in-work day-cares so mothers can breast-feed or actually a society where women can stay home and be a mother.
      • by ChumpusRex2003 ( 726306 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @07:29PM (#41811977)

        The original research cites a large number studies with large numbers of children (hundreds or thousands). One of the major studies cited looks at different "types" of neglect which they call "global neglect" and "chaotic neglect". These mean multi-modal or single-modal sensory deprivation; e.g. no exposure to speech, or no exposure to physical experiences (for example, not allowed out of bed), no exposure to cognitive stimuli, etc.

        The research showed that for "chaotic neglect" (i.e. one aspect of stimulus missing), brain scans were usually normal, or only slightly abnormal (e.g. brain volume reduced). However, for "global neglect" (multiple aspects of stimulus missing), then nearly half the brain scans were abnormal, showing severely reduced brain volume.

        Of course, there are other aspects to neglect, not just sensory and intellectual deprivation; but that was not what the image, or the description in the text was about; this review purely (as far as possible in an observational study) looked at the differences between partial and severe sensory/intellectual deprivation.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Look, you are asking for something that does not exist. To get what you are asking for would require a couple hundred Skinner boxes, clones, and a brain dead ethics panel.

      Medicine is the art of applying science, and unfortunately, you are going to have to deal with live data which is going to be messy and factors that are going to be subjective. However, evidence based medicine can turn out pretty specify – even outside laboratory conditions.

      So stop being snippy.

      And, from an antidotal viewpoint, it se

    • by countach ( 534280 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @06:04PM (#41811143)

      Yeah, I'm not saying this study isn't true, but it sounds like a sample size of one, which is pretty meaningless.

  • Sample size? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wgoodman ( 1109297 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @05:46PM (#41810905)

    While I agree in theory with the findings in theory (though I haven't read TFA due to them putting two of the same obnoxious ad with sound on the same page so it plays with an echo) I think a sample size of two children is a bit small to declare any sort of scientific result.

    • Re:Sample size? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Eil ( 82413 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @06:19PM (#41811343) Homepage Journal

      Not sure why anybody thought this was news, I remember reading about it in my Pschology 101 textbook. Nearly any mammal (not just humans) deprived of external stimulus when young will end up with a less developed brain than their otherwise normal peers.

      This doesn't apply only to babies and toddlers either. There was a study awhile back trying to figure out why certain groups of inner-city teens don't learn in school. As in, they were taught the same material, given the same homework, spent the same amount of time in class. The study controlled for things like truants and habitual trouble-makers. It turned out that all of them were dealing with at least major parental crisis. For example, their parents were severe alcoholics, beat them, sexually abused them, or died recently. When stuff like that happens, the kids' brains switched into survival mode and were then completely incapable of the kind of in-depth learning that normal kids enjoy. Remove the crisis, and the kid can learn at a normal capacity again. (Depending on the extent/length of the trauma.)

      • Re:Sample size? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @08:12PM (#41812367) Homepage
        This reminds me of this episode [] of This American Life which mentioned that kids that undergo a lot of stress at home are basically constantly in a "fight or flight" mode and therefore have a lot of trouble actually sitting down and absorbing information.
    • Re:Sample size? (Score:4, Informative)

      by codebonobo ( 2762819 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @07:04PM (#41811757)
      The original research cites many studies of sample sizes of 1000, 200, 122, ect. Here is the cited research: [] without the obnoxious ads.
  • Sexist! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by markdavis ( 642305 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @05:47PM (#41810913)

    >"of the remarkable impact a mother's love has on a child's brain development."

    Oh, so only a MOTHER'S love could cause that, not a father's or anyone else...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ninjaz96 ( 813861 )
      I was surprised the father wasn't mentioned at all, I like this message about both parents importance: Facts for Life [] A father's role is as vital as the mother's in nurturing and caring for their children and protecting their rights. A father should make daughters and sons feel they are equally important. Just like the mother, the father can help meet their child's needs for love, affection, approval, encouragement and stimulation. Together, the mother and father can ensure that the child recei
      • Words, words, cheap words. In general i agree with you, but man, you need to be more specific.
      • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @06:13PM (#41811271)
        I agree with someone else's tap dancing around the issue. It's anti-gay parents. No men-only couples allowed, as they children will be damaged by lack of a mother.

        Also, make sure any splits result in the children go with the mother, as fathers can't love their children the same.
      • Re:Sexist! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @06:18PM (#41811333)

        Together, the mother and father can ensure that the child receives a quality education and good nutrition and health care.

        Meh.... 2 fathers and no mothers. a mother and a much older brother. a father and an aunt. a father and an uncle.

        The reality isn't a message isn't about a "father and a mother"; its that 'more is better'.

        More attention and care from more diverse individuals is better.
        Doesn't really matter what the biological relationships or genders are; although its probable that exposure to both genders is ideal - for the inherent diversity that entails. But that could provided by an aunt/uncle or grandparent in a gay couple, or single parent scenario.

    • The article says early intervention and support is essential to preventing these kind I'd disorders. That implies that such support need not be provided by the mother. Nevertheless, if your own mother doesn't care about you, odds are on one else does either. You see a lot more single mothers than single fathers after-all.

      • by Belial6 ( 794905 )
        That is kid of a loaded statistic. Every father that knows they have a child, also knows who that child's mother is. The same is not true of mothers always knowing who the father is. We also have a society with support systems in place to allow single mothers to more easily care for a child than a single father. Finally, we have a legal system that is heavily weighted to unfairly give women preference in child custody over men. If the women are less capable of providing for the child, the legal system
    • I'm sure that in populations where neonates spend substantial amount of times cuddling up and sucking daddy's nipples, similar effects of paternal love might well be noticed... That just doesn't seem to happen very much in primates.

      • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

        I'm sure that in populations where neonates spend substantial amount of times cuddling up and sucking daddy's nipples, similar effects of paternal love might well be noticed

        Can you spot the difference between an adult who was breast fed and one who was bottle fed as an infant? I can't. As the GP noted, this is not just sexist but factually incorrect -- nipples have nothinhg to do with it, or people would have started getting stupid around the beginning of the 20th century when most babies were bottle-fed.


  • by banbeans ( 122547 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @05:48PM (#41810931)

    This would only be valid if it was a comparison of identical twins raised in the different environments.

    • You can easily argue that Epigenetics has put doubt into every twin study ever done.
    • by ErikZ ( 55491 ) *

      If that was the case, then medical science could only advance by using twins for all test cases.

    • Statistics can control for the variables you are probably thinking of (keep in mind that the actual study involved thousands of kids, not a single pair).

  • On the other hand, the child with the smaller brain on the right will be more likely to become addicted to drugs, be involved in violent crimes, be unemployed and dependent on government benefits in the future.

    Also, really? Phrenology much? This dumps credibility down the toilet pretty quick.

    Mr. Burns: Of course you'd say that. You have the brainpan of a stagecoach tilter.

    • by Belial6 ( 794905 )
      This is a really dangerous trend lately. Phrenology is back in full force. As long as an MRI is used, the population and medical community alike are declaring it 'SCIENCE'.
  • No one should doubt the necessity and benefits of love to a child, or the harmful effects of neglect. That said, is it just me, or was much of that story eerily reminiscent of phrenology?
    • Re:Um... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @06:03PM (#41811119) Journal

      Unfortunately, while it comes up for very understandable reasons every time a story about looking at brain structure appears, the spectre of phrenology is really only useful as a cautionary tale about optimism....

      Phrenology falls especially flat because it used skull morphology as an (inaccurate) proxy for measurements of the brain that weren't nondestructively available at the time(not that knowledge of brain function was good enough to have made such measurements useful even if available); but it was an early stab at the theory that psychological phenomena, and 'mind' in general, are ultimately dependent on the physical operations of the brain.

      That's the nuisance. Phrenology was embarrassingly lousy as an actual scientific theory of anything resembling predictive power(and pop-phrenology was even worse, barely better than horoscopes and speculations about why undesireables look like monkeys); but made an early grab for the only really viable premise in neurology, the idea that mental phenomena are ultimately based on physical activity in the brain.

      Unless you are some kind of Cartesian dualist, an Occasionalist, or take monads really seriously, you don't have a whole lot of options other than being a (hopefully much improved) post-phrenologist...

    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      Unlike phrenology, this is a direct measurement of brain development. Do you dispute that the specific brain structures looked at have a bearing on behavior?

      They went into the weeds a bit here since they presented only one example rather than an actual study, and they should have couched the 'prognosis' in terms of statistical likelihood, but the science behind it is much more sound than phrenology ever was.

  • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @05:50PM (#41810955)

    The size of the brain isn't the determining factor in intelligence; Its surface area is. It's well-known that stress can cause structural differences in the brain, as does a wide variety of environmental conditions. But when you consider that a child can lose half of their brain and still go on to have a full range of mental faculties, and appear completely normal to any outside observer, it's clear size doesn't really matter... it's the number of interconnections between cells that seems to be what is important... and specifically, how and where those interconnections are made.

  • get back to me when you have scans of say 2K kids or say 2M kids

    then index by Race/Gender/Location and whatever other factors you can think of.

  • Stupid parents have stupid children. I assume some is nutrition versus nurturing, but in the end it doesn't matter. And Mothers: Please don't use the TV as a babysitter.
  • Humans are social animals - we develop to our fullest potential when we are safe, secure, and can develop socially. When we are ignored, or left alone - the need to develop complex intelligence and social constructs fades, we revert to a more animal state. Children, especially babies, are closer to animals (in brain development and in-born skills, not in terms of our compassion for them) in this aspect than adults - as they have not yet formed the relationships with other beings as well as the means to ex

  • I was under the impression that this was already an extremely well known impact of neglect (or conversely, attention). That said, comparing only two brains is completely meaningless. The margin of error is off the charts. And how were the children selected? Probably exactly because of the contrast between them.
  • I guess your career was more important...b*tch! // just kidding, my mom was great.

  • by medv4380 ( 1604309 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @06:04PM (#41811153)
    When you fail to clearly define what Extreme Neglect is you're giving crazy Helicopter Parents the excuse to be as crazy as they are. What is Extreme Neglect for 3 and under? Is leaving the child screaming for an hour in the bassinet extreme neglect, or is that just sleep training? I'd personally call hitting a child Abuse but is these also considered extreme neglect? Or is Extreme Neglect for those parents who never hold or cuddle their child, but rather just shove a bottle in the kids mouth and make sure their needs are only minimally met? Is leaving a child with their Grand Parent for the Day so you can have a night out Extreme Neglect, or is that Normal? I don't like these kinds of child studies because they overly generalize what they are looking at because they don't want to say something like we scanned the brains of children who were under the care of convicted child abusers who left their children at home unattended.
  • Anecdotal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @06:05PM (#41811167) Homepage

    So basically this qualifies as a glorified anecdote. We're taking the researcher's word for age and conditions of these two brain scans. The article chooses to talk solely about mother's love, and not any confounding factors. Where are the correlation statistics for mother, father, age, genetics, economics, poverty, education, community, nutrition, illness, accidents, grandparents, number of siblings, geographic location, social services, etc., etc.?

    Offhand I would bet that simple nutrition is more highly correlated with brain size than mother's emotional attention -- and the former is something we can change with social programs. For this kind of stuff I want to see scientific studies, not People magazine exposes.

    • We're taking the researcher's word for age and conditions of these two brain scans

      Aside from peer reviewers and competing studies, isn't this usually the case? Or is everyone everywhere a flat out liar?

      Offhand I would bet that simple nutrition is more highly correlated with brain size than mother's emotional attention -- and the former is something we can change with social programs.

      Even if you are planning your own study is it wise to just assume that all these people from UCLA, Washington University School of Medicine and Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D./Child Trauma Academy are wrong to enact your gut's convenient solution? If so we should probably also dismiss the anecdote in your sig.

    • >Offhand I would bet that simple nutrition is more highly correlated with brain size than mother's emotional attention -- and the former is something we can change with social programs.

      Doesn't sound likely. First the full study was far more then 2 children. Second, extreme abusers aren't going to give their children food if it's supplied by a social program anyway. Either they will 'neglect' the social program for food (which in the U.S. there are many), or they will consume the food themselves (or sell

  • by obarthelemy ( 160321 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @06:07PM (#41811203)

    Between a single instance being treated as definite proof, the unanswered question of whether the abuse might have included brain injuries, and the whorish, loud ads everywhere on the site... i'll take that with a bucket or two of salt, thank you.

  • Early, often and continuous maternal contact, speaking and other interactions are shown to help development measurable in a variety of ways from ages as short as the first 6 months. This is no longer a surprise.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @06:09PM (#41811229) Journal

    Is anybody else reminded of Harlow's rather disconcerting work on maternal attachment in monkeys and his later, even more disconcerting, work on the effects of isolation on monkeys(if your laboratory apparatus includes a device referred to as the 'pit of despair' you might have an ethics problem...)?

    • (if your laboratory apparatus includes a device referred to as the 'pit of despair' you might be playing Dwarf Fortress)!!!


  • by NoKaOi ( 1415755 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @06:16PM (#41811317)

    Perhaps there's a reason why this isn't in a peer reviewed journal. First off, you have a sample size in each group of exactly one. I'm not a statistician, but I'm pretty sure that in itself makes the whole thing utterly meaningless.

    But let's pretend you get the same results with a statistically significant sample it comes....correlation != causation (you were thinking that already). Perhaps the cause is nutrition, so you'd have to factor in nutrition, either by using neglected children who somehow had good nutrition, or non-neglected children who had poor nutrition (although I doubt those overbearing vegan hippies would be willing to let their children get blasted with evil voodoo radiation for the imaging studies). What if it's because the parents' brains are smaller? Perhaps it's purely genetic, the parents are stupid because of smaller brains and fuzzy spots and passed that trait onto their children, and they also neglect their child because they're stupid. The article also states that the child was neglected and *abused*, so how do we know the difference isn't the result of physical trauma?

    • I saw a Dr. Oz show on this. When a child is exposed to traumatic experiences multiple+ times the part of the brain that controls the 'fight or flight' responsr gets permanently 'frozen' for life. When a normal, properly raised as a child, adult gets shocked or scared by an outside event, they get over it in a few minutes. But the adult traumatized as a child stays 'locked' in an angry, frightened or 'flight' response for far longer than normal.
  • The bad parenting is result of some brain difference too. And that difference is passed on genetically. Hence, on what basis do they attribute the difference to the neglect rather than to genetic causes?

  • Sample size of two (Score:5, Informative)

    by J'raxis ( 248192 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @06:29PM (#41811439) Homepage

    Your "study's" sample size is two. But gratuitous use of words like "shocking" and "chilling" will probably make most people ignore that.

  • by l0ungeb0y ( 442022 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @06:29PM (#41811445) Homepage Journal

    I for one think that all grade-school aged children should be given mandatory brain scans two or three times a year with bad results requiring the child to immediately be put into the nurturing safety of a Foster Care Facility and their Parents locked up for good.

    Sometimes technology brings such wonderful possibilities for the safety of the Children!

  • N = 2. Great. Let's write it up and send it in.

  • I'd be far more apt to believe that any sort of stunted development in a child was due to malnutrition, especially in one that was admittedly suffering from 'extreme neglect'. This 'study', as it stands, should be binned.
  • It comes as little surprise. I think as we begin to get a more full grasp on how we develop as children into adults, we can make more progress to improve our species and our societies. It probably won't stop black men from leaving their families, or white trash from beating their wives right away, but perhaps in a generation or two, some real progress of understanding can be had.

    But also in terms of how we deal with criminal behavior? We always want to say "bad person! punish them!" or "creepy person! pu

    • There are no easy answers here. This situation has been documented for a long.. long.. long time.

      Exodus 34:7, "Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting (punishing) the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation."

      In biblical terms they are called generational curses, while I don't believe in curses, I do believe it is a generational pattern. What

  • How freaky is it come from home from an appointment with the neurologist and see this at the top of the Slashdot?

    So, some anecdotal evidence supporting this. My wife and I are foster parents. You have no idea how bad some kids have it until you see it first hand. We have a foster child with us that has been professionally diagnosed as being 'developmentally delayed'. This means not being able to do the things that a baby of his age should be able to do. Crawl, eat soft food, roll over, mimic a caregiver, ma

  • But hey, thanks for the science.

  • On the other hand, a recent paper suggests that books trim the cortex [].

    neuroscientist Martha Farah of the University of Pennsylvania and her colleagues recruited 64 children from a low income background and followed them from birth through to late adolescence....More than 10 years after the second home visit, the researchers used MRI to obtain detailed images of the participants' brains. They found that the level of mental stimulation a child receives in the home at age 4 predicted the thickness of two regio

  • More than anything, the difference is likely due to nutrition, canabinoids and opiates in the breast milk, tobacco smoke in the air and a few other minor things like attention and love...
  • Assuming that both images are to scale and taken from the same "slice" of brain (i.e. the images haven't been cooked for dramatic effect), there is a massive difference in the size of the head between both images. If this is the case then couldn't the shrinkage be due to poor nutrition? The whole article is pretty week and quotes no evidence or studies other than the single image.

  • I can totally see this. We got one little one at 11 months, who was taken from home at 9 months, and we were her 4th foster home in that 2 month period.

    She came to us an angry sad 11 month old that was taken care of primarily by a 10 year old brother, just very unhappy little one... after a year with us she turned into a smart bubbly laughing girl because we gave her constant attention along with our child, who is a year older than her.

    She craved attention more than anything. once she started walking, she w

  • TFA is accompanied by a terrible image of two head scans. They are obviously not sized the same. One skull is about 50 percent larger than the other. I'm not a radiologist, but the scans appear to be different resolutions too. It's like they wanted to show people "different brains sizes" so they deliberately chose images heads with different sizes so we'd get the point. Lies, damn lies (the pictures I mean).

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.