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How the Timing and Quality of Early Experiences Influence the Development of Brain Architecture


  • The writing of this article was made possible by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Fellowship at Harvard Medical School (to Sharon Fox), the NIH (NS03445; MH078829), the John D. and Catherine T. Macarthur Foundation and the Richard David Scott Chair (to Charles A. Nelson), and the Annette Schaffer Eskind Chair, NIMH Grant MH080759 and NICHD P30 core Grant HD15052 (to Pat Levitt).

concerning this article should be sent to Charles A. Nelson, Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School, 1 Autumn Street, 6th Floor, Mailbox #713, Au621, Boston, MA 02215-5365. Electronic mail may be sent to


Early life events can exert a powerful influence on both the pattern of brain architecture and behavioral development. In this study a conceptual framework is provided for considering how the structure of early experience gets “under the skin.” The study begins with a description of the genetic framework that lays the foundation for brain development, and then proceeds to the ways experience interacts with and modifies the structures and functions of the developing brain. Much of the attention is focused on early experience and sensitive periods, although it is made clear that later experience also plays an important role in maintaining and elaborating this early wiring diagram, which is critical to establishing a solid footing for development beyond the early years.