Charles A. Nelson, Ph.D.
M.I.N.D. Institute Distinguished Lecturer Series: May 10, 2006
Charles A. Nelson, Ph.D., is the Richard David Scott Chair in Pediatric Developmental Medicine Research at Harvard Medical School and Director of Research in the Developmental Medicine Center at Children’s Hospital Boston. Dr. Nelson studies the effects of early experience on brain and behavioural development, with specific interest in the effects of early biological or psychosocial adversity. His research program focuses on the development and neural bases of memory, face and emotion processing, and executive functions in both typically developing children and children at risk for neurodevelopmental disorders. Prior to his 2005 move to Harvard, Dr. Nelson held the Distinguished McKnight University Professorship and the Lindahl Professor for Excellence in Teaching in Learning at the University of Minnesota, and served on the National Academy of Sciences panel that wrote From Neurons to Neighborhoods. In addition to his service on numerous boards and advisory committees, Dr. Nelson chairs the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Early Experience and Brain Development.
The Development and Neural Bases of Face Processing (4 pm)
Prior to the onset of language, most communication between infants and caregivers takes place through non-verbal channels, particularly face reading. In this talk I will describe how the ability to process faces develops. I will begin by outlining what is known about this ability in the adult, then move to what is known about this ability in infants and children. In both cases I will focus to a great degree on the cognitive neuroscience literature of face processing, as that literature will inform us about how the brain becomes specialized to process faces. I will conclude by discussing several theoretical models that purport to account for the development and neural bases of face processing.
The Effects of Early Institutionalization on Brain and Behavioral Development: A Model System for Studying Neural Plasticity (6 pm)
Thousands of children are adopted each year into US homes, many from outside the United States. Of these internationally adopted children, a surprisingly large number spent their first weeks or months of life in institutional settings. In this talk I will discuss a large project currently taking place in Bucharest, Romania, designed to examine the effects of early institutionalization on brain and behavioral development. A unique element of this project is that a subset of our previously institutionalized children are being raised in foster care; thus, we are able to examine the efficacy of this intervention as a treatment for the negative sequelae associated with early institutionalization. In my talk I will discuss not only the findings from our study, but as well, the implications such findings have for understanding the role of experience in brain and behavioral development.