Images of the brains of two three-year-old children clearly showing the effects of neglect – What’s the difference between these two brains?
Take a careful look at the image of two brains on this page. The picture is of the brains of two three-year-old children. It’s obvious that the brain on the left is much bigger than the one on the right. The image on the left also has fewer spots, and far fewer dark “fuzzy” areas.
To neurologists who study the brain, and who have worked out how to interpret the images, the difference between these two brains is both remarkable and shocking. The brain on the right lacks some of the most fundamental areas present in the image on the left. Those deficits make it impossible for that child to develop capacities that the child on the left will have: the child on the right will grow into an adult who is less intelligent, less able to empathise with others, more likely to become addicted to drugs and involved in violent crime than the child on the left. The child on the right is much more likely to be unemployed and to be dependent on welfare, and to develop mental and other serious health problems.
What could possibly cause so radical a divergence in brain development? The obvious answer is that it must have been some illness or terrible accident.
The obvious answer is wrong.
The primary cause of the extraordinary difference between the brains of these two three-year-old children is the way they were treated by their mothers. The child with the much more fully developed brain was cherished by its mother, who was constantly and fully responsive to her baby. The child with the shrivelled brain was neglected and abused. That difference in treatment explains why one child’s brain develops fully, and the other’s does not.
Some researchers have questioned the use of this brain-scan photo, taken from work done with the Romanian Orphans from Ceausescu’s era. However the research behind it is absolutely correct. Severe neglect absolutely destroys a child’s chances in life. That’s why we do what we do. The mothers we work with aren’t uncaring; otherwise they would not come to our sessions. But many have not had good parenting themselves and therefore don’t naturally pass it on. Many have been traumatized by abuse and violence, and some may be depressed. In any case, what we are doing in the slums of Africa is just ahead of the curve!