Mental Health

Brain Development Update: Infants Use Prefrontal Cortex In Learning, Study Finds

The brain’s prefrontal cortex is associated with complex functions like personality, emotional reactions, planning, and prioritizing, according to GoodTherapy.org. In the past, researchers have thought that the prefrontal cortex is too undeveloped in infants for them to use, but findings from a new study have suggested that babies begin using their PFC earlier.

"The wow factor isn't 'Look the PFC works,'" study senior author Dima Amso said in a press release. "It's that what seems to be happening is that its function is a really good fit for what these babies need to be mastering at that moment in their development."

baby Scientists are one step closer to understanding how the brain develops. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Amso further explained that these findings may mean the PFC in an infant is not necessarily less developed, but rather adjusting to a different environment.

The Brown University-based research team examined 37 infants who were being raised in a bilingual household. The scientists measured the babies’ brain activities and eye blinks while responding to images on a screen. First, they were shown a face and then an image of a toy, and the infants had to determine which words were associated with which person, which, according to UPI, is effectively testing two sets of vocabularies. Researchers measured their responses by tracking brain activity and eye blinks.

"Atypical development, then, might reflect an inability to adapt to an environmental challenge, or an earlier adaptation because of a negative environment," Amso said in the release. "We and others are probing with these ideas as relevant to PFC development.”

The scientists who carried out the study believe these results change the conventional understanding of neurodevelopment.

Source: Werchan DM, Collins AGE, Frank MJ, Amso D. Role Of Prefrontal Cortex In Learning And Generalizing Hierarchical Rules In 8-Month-Old Infants. The Journal Of Neuroscience. 2016.

Read more:

Brains And Babies: 6 Things We’ve Recently Learned Brain Development In Infants

Multitasking And The Human Brain: Prefrontal Cortex Determines Concentration Level During Multiple Activities

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