Cultural and Developmental Neuroplasticity (Part One)

Cultural and Developmental Neuroplasticity (Part One)


The neural circuitry that governs emotional life is among the last part of the brain to become anatomically mature, and repeated experiences are among the stronger forces that sculpt the developing brain-as evidence from in cross-cultural and child development studies shows. Culture gets under the skin: socialization into a given culture is an active agent in emotional neuroplasticity, resulting in systematic differences in patterns of autonomic reactivity, subjective experience of emotion, and emotional expressivity from culture to culture. For instance, a cultural prohibition against extreme emotional expression may alter conceptions of emotion, the occurrence of specific types of emotion, their underlying neural circuitry, and their intrapersonal and interpersonal functions. The case in point comes from comparative studies done with Chinese and American subjects within and outside the United States.

Similarly, the unique developmental events of a given child’s life have a major role in shaping emotional circuitry. Much of the data here focuses on prefrontal-limbic circuitry that regulates emotional awareness, regulation, and reactivity. Trauma or neglect can lead to sub-clinical prefrontal deficits that manifest as poor impulse or anger control. More generally, how a child learns-or fails to learn-basic skills like emotional self-regulation or empathy has a lasting influence on the neural circuitry that underlie these abilities. Childhood represents a singular window of opportunity for intervening positively in the behavioral and neural repertoire that can counter the destructive emotions. Curricula on social and emotional learning can help children master lifelong abilities like self-awareness, anger management, impulse control and empathy-roots of individual responsibility and compassion. Data from studies of such educational programs suggests the active ingredients in effective emotional learning, and what the practical benefits are for a child’s development.

  • Dialogue 8
    11 sessions
  • March 23, 2000
    Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India
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Mark Greenberg