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How Does Environment Affect Brain Development and Learning in Children?

The nature vs. nurture is a huge debate that has been going on for several years, with people on both sides of the argument believing that both genetics and environment play a huge role in the way a person develops. Both sides of these arguments are undoubtedly true, especially when it comes to brain development and learning in children; while genetics are a factor when it comes to the pruning of the brain and the reorganization of the brain structure, the environment a child is exposed to during the early years when brain development is at its peak has a very huge influence on how their brain develops. To understand this further, below is a look at various environmental factors and how they can affect brain development of a child.

1) Stimulants

Stimulants (audio and visual) are one of the major environmental factors that affect how the brain of a child develops, and his/her ability to learn and understand. During the early childhood years when brain growth and development is at its peak, a child’s brain should be constantly stimulated using audio and visual stimulants so as to trigger synaptic changes and the restructuring of neural pathways that characterize brain development. The audio and visual stimulants that cause these changes to occur are found in the child’s environment and they include music, sound patterns, speech, pictures, decorations, displays, etc.

These audio and visual stimulants have a great impact on how their brain develops. For example, depriving an infant of sight can cause the neural pathways that are involved in sight to develop improperly leading to problems such as congenital cataracts. On the other hand, a child who is exposed to several visual stimulants is able to develop a sharp perception of the surroundings, which helps him/her to interact easily with the environment, and recognize and identify various objects with ease. The situation is also similar in the case of audio stimulants, where a child will learn to speak and understand speech more easily if they are constantly spoken to and exposed to other sounds.

2) Drugs, toxins, and diseases

Drugs, diseases and toxins are another major environmental factor that can have a huge impact on the brain development of a child. Children who are exposed (even before birth) to substances such as alcohol, nicotine (tobacco), and drugs such as heroin, and cocaine are at very high risks of a slowed brain development, which results in problems such as impaired speech, poor mental skills, poor language skills, low intelligence, and learning problems.

Children who are exposed to various toxins such as lead, mercury, manganese, toxic solvents, and other toxins that can be found in their environment are also at a high risk of developing cognitive problems such as poor memory formation, mental retardation, speech problems, hyperactivity, reduced IQ, and poor motor skills. The case is also the same for children who are exposed to diseases, as various viruses and bacteria can affect the brain development by either hindering or lowering the rate of development, thus affecting a child’s ability to learn and understand.

3) Abuse and neglect

Abuse and neglect is part of emotional environment surrounding a child, and it has been shown to have a very significant negative influence on brain development and learning capabilities of a child. According to several studies, physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect of children at their early childhood years has a devastating impact on their brain development, due to the constant state of fear and insecurity that these children live in. As a result, they are at a high risk of experiencing emotional, behavioral, social, physical and academic problems in their childhood years and even in their adulthood.

4) Love and emotional attachment

Love and emotional support forms the other part of emotional environment that a child can be exposed to, and it also has a very huge impact on their brain development. As already seen from the abuse and neglect factor, a child’s brain is heavily influenced by the emotional environment they are exposed to at an early age. However, unlike abuse and neglect, love and emotional support offers a positive influence by offering trust and security to the children and allowing them to develop a positive emotional environment. As a result, the brain develops at a fast, healthy, flexible, and diverse manner, and the child is able to obtain optimal cognitive functions. A child who is loved also acquires self-confidence, a high self-esteem and great social skills, and is thus able to form meaningful relationships in life.


The environment that a child is exposed to at an early age has a very huge influence on how their brain develops, which can either be positive or negative depending on the environment. It is therefore the responsibility of parents and guardians to ensure that their children are exposed to a healthy environment that can foster positive and optimal brain development. This can be achieved by ensuring that they are loved, protecting them from abuse and neglect, ensuring that they are not exposed to harmful drugs and substances, providing them with proper medical care, and ensuring that their brains are properly stimulated and challenged, so as to promote proper brain development.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 28th, 2016 and is filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.