Environmental stimulation, parental nurturance and cognitive development in humans

Authors


Address for correspondence: Martha J. Farah, Department of Psychology and Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania, 3720 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA; e-mail: mfarah@psych.upenn.edu

Abstract

The effects of environmental stimulation and parental nurturance on brain development have been studied extensively in animals. Much less is known about the relations between childhood experience and cognitive development in humans. Using a longitudinally collected data set with ecologically valid in-home measures of childhood experience and later in-laboratory behavioral measures of cognitive ability, we were able to test hypotheses concerning the effects of environmental stimulation and parental nurturance. A double dissociation was found: On the one hand, there was a selective relation between parental nurturance and memory development, consistent with the animal literature on maternal buffering of stress hormone effects on hippocampal development. On the other hand, there was a selective relation between environmental stimulation and language development. The relevance of these findings to socioeconomic gradients in cognitive ability is discussed.

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