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Extreme environments described

Watch this video. Professor Jane Barlow introduces research into the effect of extreme environments on children who experience them.
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In this course, we’re going to be focusing explicitly on the way in which the parent’s mind shapes the baby’s developing mind and sense of self. We’re going to start by examining what we have learned over the past 50 years from some of the extreme environments in which children have been raised. Since the middle of the last decade, there have been a number of examples of children being exposed to extreme environments during their formative years. For example, in Romania and Russia, many babies were abandoned by their parents and had to be raised in public orphanages.
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One of the key features characterising these orphanages were large numbers of babies and toddlers being cared for by small numbers of staff who had very low levels of interaction with the babies for whom they were responsible. It eventually came to be recognised that these environments represented very severe sensory and relational deprivation for these babies, a condition that is now known as pervasive neglect. Environments of extreme neglect of this sort have provided a number of natural experiments, giving psychologists the opportunity to examine not only the long term impact on such children of extreme neglect, but also what happens when we attempt to make up for this early deprivation by providing them with normal environments later in life.
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A group of US researchers have followed the long term development of these children as part of the Bucharest Early Intervention programme. The results of their research showed that children who remained in these orphanages experienced profound delays and deficits in cognitive functioning, with many having significant learning problems, delays in their socio-emotional development, and a range of psychiatric disorders and impairment. These scans of a normal brain of a three-year-old child on the left and a child from a Romanian orphanage on the right show the impact of extreme sensory deprivation during the early years. These scans show the temporal lobes, which respond to sensory input.
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Now you can see this kind on the right of the infant from the Romanian orphanage shows very little activity following stimulation. These researchers also found, however, that a group of children who were removed and placed in foster care were able to demonstrate recovery in some but not all of these domains. However, as might be expected from looking at that brain scan, these children experienced many ongoing problems in terms of their attachment, their emotional responsiveness, anxiety disorders, and their overall IQ. Furthermore, the age at which they were removed was found to be one of the most important factors predicting recovery, with children who were removed before two years of age demonstrating the best outcomes.
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If you would like to read more about this research, we have provided an article with further information on this topic. These important early findings about the impact of deprivation have paralleled a growing body of research in the field of developmental psychology that has demonstrated the importance of consistent attention, affection, and stimulation from a small number of caregivers during the first two years of life. But the research is actually much more sophisticated than this suggests. And infants need access to particular types of minds for this to happen. In the next section, I will briefly describe what we now know about infant brain development in order to identify why parenting in the postnatal period is so important.
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But before we do that, watch the three video clips of babies in a Russian orphanage.

In Romania under the Ceauşescu regime (1967-1989) both abortion and contraception were forbidden, leading to a rise in birth rates. As a result many newborn babies were abandoned to be looked after in public orphanages. These orphanages were characterised by conditions of extreme deprivation, particularly human and sensory.

Environments of extreme neglect of this sort have provided a number of natural experiments, giving psychologists the opportunity to examine not only its impact on children who experience it, but also what happens when we attempt to make up for early deprivation of this sort by providing them with normal environments later in life.

This video describes what we have learned from these extreme environments about the needs of babies.

Romania was not the only country in which babies and toddlers were left in large numbers to be looked after by the state, and in which the children experienced severe neglect.

In the following three steps we have been given permission to share some clips with you, which were developed by HealthProm and the St Petersburg Intervention Institute. These clips are part of a longer film that is used to teach professionals to observe and interpret infant and child behaviour and understand the importance of attachment (Step 4.18: Glossary).

The clips are in Russian with English subtitles.

Note: Please note that at the beginning of the video, where Professor Barlow says “Since the middle of the last decade, there have been a number of examples of children being exposed…” Professor Barlow meant to say “Since the middle of the last century, there have been a number of examples of children being exposed…” We apologise for the mistake.

Every effort has been made to trace copyright holders for the image used in this film, and to obtain their permission for the use of copyright material. As we have been unable to do this, we would be grateful to be notified of any attributions that should be incorporated in future runs of this course.

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Babies in Mind: Why the Parent's Mind Matters

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