Young children need attention—and not just to keep them from wandering off or yelling their lungs out. Social interactions actually help their developing brains. We know about this from studying children and animals raised in relative isolation: Neglected children, like those raised in Romanian orphanages, suffer from behavioral and cognitive deficits as adults, and isolated young monkeys grow up to have weaker memory and learning abilities than their socialized peers. Just what is happening in the brain to trigger these mental problems?
According to a new paper in the journal Science, it’s all about the fatty tissue myelin, and the cells that produce it. Babies are born with very little myelin in the brain—as they develop, specialized cells called oligodendrocytes wrap insulating myelin sheaths around the long, rod-like sections of certain neurons. These myelin coatings help electrical signals travel more quickly through children’s brains. Read More