Monday, July 2, 2012

It's the mother, not the milk...

...that helps the development of a baby's brain. The idea that breastfeeding plays a role? Not according to the research evidence. See our piece in Bloomberg View that lays out the evidence that this is a myth. So what can you do? Talk, talk, talk to the baby.

Needless to say, if you don't believe us, read the evidence! The essay contains links to literature. For additional direct access to key literature, browse these technical papers.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The sun is the best optometrist

The longest day of the year is a great time to remind parents - if you want to reduce the likelihood of nearsightedness in your child, outdoor time is ideal. We wrote about this last year in the New York Times. The tendency toward myopia is genetic, but actually becoming nearsighted depends on environmental factors. Turns out, it's not near work, such as reading at close distances. So...if he wants to read, let him do it outside!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

North Korea neuroscience media?

North Korea media called the South Korean president "an underwit with 2MB of memory." Now, is that nice? Several neuroscientists - including me - correct the record, as much as it can be corrected. The upper limit, 100 terabytes, is a bit silly - memory doesn't quite work that way - but it's catchy, isn't it!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

On Bloomberg EDU this weekend

This weekend on Bloomberg EDU, Sandra and I talk with Jane Williams about how to make kids' brains strong. Tune in: Sirius XM Channel 113 or Saturday 11am/8pm, and Sunday 12am/7pm, all Eastern Time.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hurricanes, emigration, and autism

A new research study has come out showing that emigrating to another country during pregnancy nearly doubles the risk of having a child who has low-functioning autism. The article will be published soon in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Sandra and I wrote about the possible reason why in Welcome To Your Child's Brain. A similar finding has been observed in women who flee a hurricane during late-second or third trimester - or are caught in an ice storm. In all cases the risk of autism is increased. What do these events have in common?

The answer is that all are stressful events. Stress hormones, which organize the brain and body's response to an important event, can also impede brain development. The third trimester is known to be an especially important period for the development of hindbrain regions that are aberrant in the brains of autistic persons, such as the cerebellum. It's plausible that undue stress at this time might drive the normal developmental process off track.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Development "expert"...Scott Adams

Here is yet another mention of the myth that there is an advantage to being the oldest kid in one's kindergarten class. Andrew Sullivan highlights a speculation by cartoonist Scott Adams...who quotes Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, which pointed out that Canadian hockey stars tend to be the oldest in their kiddie camps. Gladwell's meme has spawned a popular belief that it is a good idea to hold a child back from entering in kindergarten. I'm not kidding about this!

As our readers know, "academic redshirting" - the practice of purposely holding a child back from entering kindergarten - is done for 1 in 11 children. There is a belief that this somehow gives kids an advantage. I've noticed that the belief is especially prevalent among business types who think - wrongly - that they are doing their children a favor.

However, as Sandra and I pointed out in the NY Times last year, this is exactly backwards. After reviewing the evidence in depth, all the scientific evidence (a link to the most reliable research we uncovered is here) argues in the other direction. In fact, the advantages goes to children who are young for their year.

Ironically, Gladwell's original point doesn't even hold for all sports; for example, it isn't true for women's sports, noncontact sports, or even some contact sports. In short, if you are trying to raise the next Wayne Gretzky (and even then, only if you live in Canada, where small children are heavily coached), sure, hold your boy back. But if you want your child to achieve academically, become better-adjusted, and avoid delinquency - all signs point toward letting him or her advance.

In short, think of redshirting as "Some Children Left Behind."

Friday, February 17, 2012

Building Young Minds, The American Way

Welcome! You probably came to us through our current column in the New York Times. Thanks for visiting!

The theme of the column comes from our new book, Welcome To Your Child's Brain. If you are curious about the original scientific literature, here's a linked version of our editorial.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Pre-K for all - and economic competitiveness

This morning at 9:30am on CNN's Your Bottom Line, Christine Romans and I talk about the need for a national conversation on pre-K education for all children, which can boost achievement...and eventually economic productivity! See the video here.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The genetics of Rain Man and Tennessee Williams

It's often speculated that the genes that predispose toward neuropsychiatric illness have positive effects. In my own research, I had an opportunity to test this idea in a high-functioning population, an entire class of undergraduates. My paper, co-authored with Ben Campbell, was published today in PLoS ONE (Princeton press release here).

We found that an interest in technical fields was predictive of a three-fold increase in the incidence in one's family of autism, which is strongly heritable. Conversely, an interest in humanities and social sciences was linked with three heritable disorders: bipolar syndrome, major depression, and substance abuse.

There are a few upshots here. First, it's been previously suggested that creativity and mental illness are linked. However, the creative populations studied are usually artists. When the study population is creative scientists, the linkage disappears. Our work suggests that it's the specific intellectual interest (arts), not creativity per se. Second, our work fits with the idea that mental illnesses represent extreme outcomes from a generation-to-generation shuffling of genes. Neuropsychiatric problems may be a price that we pay as a species for having a variety of intellectual interests.