Childhood Is The Critical Period for Socialization

Researchers have discovered that social contacts stimulate the proper development of the brain. One risks getting an impaired brain if he or she didn’t have adequate socialization during early childhood.  Getting enough socialization at early age is a fundamental physiological need.

It is known that children have mental delay caused by inadequate socialization. Scientists have previously assumed that an insufficient level of socialization doesn’t allow the brain to produce new interneuron connections, because only new experiences enforce the brain to create new neuron patterns. However, until now, scientists could only speculate about the mechanisms of this phenomenon.

Yet, researchers from Harvard Medical School have been able to determine how a lack of socialization affects the brain. It turned out that glial cells create a weak protective shell around neurons in subjects who have not received enough socialization. The glial cells constitute a specific microenvironment for neurons, providing the conditions to generate and transmit neuron impulses, as well as carrying out a part of the neuron’s metabolic processes.

The experiment was conducted in mice. After the baby mice stopped drinking their mother’s milk, they were divided into three groups: some were placed in individual cages, others were located into the environment with three companions, and the final group was put into a cage with other mice and toys. Then the researchers tested mental abilities of the mice from each group by making them find food  in a specific direction.  The third group of mice showed the best result.

In additional, the glial cells of mice that grew up in isolation were shown to be weak and formed thin layers around the neurons.  The low quality of the glial shell results in problems in signal transmission between neurons:  as the impulse becomes weaker, it can be more easily lost and can be more difficult to reach its intended destination.  Hence, paucity of socialization prevents proper development of the brain.

Of course, all these results were obtained in animals; however, researchers believe that a similar  mechanism may work in the human brain. Therefore, it is very important to have a sufficient level of socialization in childhood in order to stimulate the optimal development of the brain.


Source :

Svetlana Stroganova,  Nikolai Shmelev

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