Information Age Education Blog

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Brain Science Research on Nature and Nurture

Brain science research, and applications of this research, continue to make amazing progress. I have seen estimations that the amount we know about the human brain has doubled in the past five years, and that 90 percent of our brain knowledge has been discovered in the past 20 years. Quoting from Hanessian (1/21/2016):

Brain scans and longitudinal studies have revealed that neglect, abuse and early chronic stress damages the developing brain and primes people for addiction, disease and premature death.

Lack of love shrinks the brain's hippocampus. Neuroplasticity allows for some neural growth and rewiring, but the damage from early severe neglect and abuse may be permanent.

Practicing sensitive and responsive communication, mindfulness and compassion (including self-compassion) change the nervous system, our chemistry and circuitry from an anxious, vigilant mode to a calmer, more connected state.

These and other findings tell us that if we fail to adequately meet the nurturing needs of babies, this affects their heath, well being, and longevity. When we nurture our students, we enhance learning.

The IAE Newsletter is currently publishing a long sequence of newsletters on the Joy of Learning (IAE Newsletter, 2015-2016). The first three in the series are:

1. The Joy of Learning: An Introduction.

2. Joy in Learning and Playing Games.

3. Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation.

Nature and Nurture

Research continues to reinforce our knowledge about how nature and nurture work together. An early insight into the “nurture” aspect of this situation is provided in Alexander Pope's Epistles to Several Persons (1732): “’Tis education forms the common mind, Just as the twig is bent the tree's inclined.”

More recent research on epigenetics explains how current life experiences can be genetically (via epigenetics) passed on (by affecting gene expression) to subsequent generations. Quoting from Isabelle Mansuy and Safa Mohanna’s article, Epigenetics and the Human Brain (Mansuy & Mohanna, 5/25/2011):

Unlike the DNA sequence, epigenetic processes are dynamic and not fixed, although some can persist for long periods of time, up to several years or a lifetime [or still longer]. Further, they are strongly influenced by the environment and by exposure to external factors like diet, living conditions, exercise, stress, chemicals, drugs, and toxins. Both positive and negative factors can modulate the epigenome. For instance, positive factors such as enriched living conditions, like social interactions, physical activity, and changing surroundings, can promote beneficial epigenetic marks, while severe stress or agricultural chemicals can permanently alter some marks.

Epigenetics provides support for another longstanding unresolved question: the contribution of nature versus nurture. Since epigenetics acts as a conduit through which environmental factors elicit lifelong biological changes, it provides a molecular basis to suggest that nurture has a strong impact on biological functions and behavior, in some cases, perhaps a stronger impact than nature (genes). [Bold added for emphasis.]

Final Remarks

To me, the message is clear. The early upbringing and education of children not only shapes their lives, it can help shape the lives of their children in the future. Such research supports the value of: parenting education; paid leaves for parents with newborn babies; “head start” programs; parenting education programs; improved aid to children and their families living in poverty; school lunch programs; working to make schooling more joyful; and so on.

What You Can Do

Think about the nature and nurture aspects in the lives of children throughout the world. Identify one or more situations where your current insights into nature and nurture can be put to good use in improving the lives of some children. Then, “Make it so.”


Hanessian, L. (1/21/2016). Survival of the nurtured. Courier-Post. Retrieved 1/22/2016 from

IAE Newsletter (2015-2016). The joy of learning. Retrieved 1/22/2016 from The first issue (December, 2015) in the Joy of Learning series is available at

Mansuy, I., & Mohanna, S. (5/25/2011). Epigenetics and the human brain. The Dana Foundation. Retrieved 1/22/2016 from

Moursund, D. (January, 2016). Learning problem-solving by using games: A guide for educators and parents. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Retrieved 1/21/2016 from

Moursund, D. (2015). Brain science for educators and parents. IAE-pedia. Web: PDF: Microsoft Word:

Moursund, D, (5/2/2014). Hungry children—America’s shame. IAE Blog. Retrieved 1/22/2016 from

Learning Problem-solving Strategies by Using Games...
Brain Science Research


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Saturday, 17 April 2021

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