Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Brain Development

The National Institute of Mental Health (USA) has been doing some research into the way the human brain developes.

Using magnetic resonance imaging, the study examined changes in the thickness of the cerebral cortex, (the thin sheet of neurons that surrounds the outer surface of the brain) this is the part of the brain that is responsible for many higher mental processes.

The cortex grows thicker as a child ages and when they reach a cortical peak level they start a natural “pruning” process of thinning and refining their cortex, the brain rewires itself as it matures, discarding redundant neural connections.

Researchers found that the brains of children of higher IQ levels appeared to develop their cortex more slowly and in a different way to children with a more average intelligence level. These findings essentially allow scientists to identify physical features of the brain that correlate with IQ levels.

A child with an average IQ may reach their peak cortical levels at the age of seven, whereas children with higher IQs could be as old as thirteen before their peak cortical level is reached, and their “pruning” process was more dynamic and efficient.

It is hoped that continued studies in this area will help to identify and understand the differences in brain development in children with disorders such as attention deficit and schizophrenia.

It will be exciting to see what the future findings of this research can show us.

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