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tv   Charlie Rose  PBS  February 11, 2017 12:00am-1:01am PST

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>> rose: welcome to our program. tonight a special edition, charlie rose "the brain series" year three. in our fifth episode we consider the effects of childhood adversity on the brain. >> perhaps the worst thing you could do is deprive the brain of the experiences it needs, particularly the experiences that need to occur during critical period, sensitive periods during brain development when the brain is particularly receptive to input or experience, and if the child goes through that period without getting the experiences the brain development is undermined. the most egregious examples are children experiencing in profound negligent and children growing up in institutions. >> the developing is brain is remarkably plastic so we have reason to believe appropriate interventions can reverse or
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prevent these effects. along those lines, i'm part of a group of social sign and neuroscientists raising funds pore the first clinical child poverty reduction in which we'll be able to reduce poverty and measure the effect it has on the >> i look at how pervasive the issue is in this country and know we have to do something about it. the u.s. department of education issued statistics showing 21% of kids reported being bullied. >> rose: underwritten by the alfred p. sloan foundation coming up. funding for charlie rose is provided by the following.
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>> and by bloomberg, a provider of multimedia news and information services worldwide. captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose. >> rose: tonight, we continue our ongoing exploration of the human brain with a look at the relationship between childhood adversity and the developing brain. our genes provide the basic blueprint for brain development but our individual experiences can shape and alter our underlying brain circuitry. traumatic, early experiences in particular can often have powerful long-term effects on the brain structure and function. these life events can include parental abuse, neglect, family violence, poverty and bullying. deborah temkin understands this issue first hand. her experience being bullied as a child led her to pursue a career studying its prevention.
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she joins me today along with the remarkable group of scientists, charles nelson of harvard medical school, kimberly noble kimberly noble of university of columbia. ken dodge of duke university, michael meaney of mcgill university. and eric kandel, nobel laureate, professor at university of columbia and howard hughes medical investigator. thank you for coming. what are we going to do today? >> you outlined it well in. the last program we considered competitive sports among young people and realized, of course, competitive athletics, kids fall down, get pushed down and sometimes suffer concussions as a result of this in which the brain bashes up the rigid skull potentially causing damage to the brain. today we'll see the astonishing fact that you refer to that you
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can get similar in some cases more severe damage to the brain without altering the position of the brain in the skull, the result of early social and psychological adversities such as parental abuse, parental neglect, poverty or bullying. some children who have been brought up in an environment in which they don't have appropriate intellectual stimulation, appropriate bonding with parents actually have pathways that don't develop in the brain and the hippocampus, the structure critical for cognitive function and memory, may not reach its normal size. but beyond cognitive abilities, other aspects of people's health are affected as a result of these deprivations in early childhood experiences. for example, people who have these early experiences are more
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susceptible to depression and suicidal thoughts, more likely to be involved in drugs, more likely to be susceptible to metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. the insult need not be severe, even moderate impairment in the bonding between parents and children can have an effect. how does this come about? it comets about in alteration of gene expression. the dna is present in every cell and present in a special compartment called the nucleus. in the nucleus, there are two one-meter-long strands of dna, one from the father, one from the mother. this is an enormous length of dna and poses a problem for the cell, how do we fit these two long stretches of dna into the nukes? the way the cell solves the problem is the nucleus does two
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things. one, it divides the dna into 23 small pieces and takes an amole gus piece from the father and mother and combines them into chromosomes so we have 23 pair of chromosomes. we wrap the dna around spool like structures called nucleosomenucleosomes and this d chrometon. there is a regulatory region that determines whether or not a particular gene will be turned on an encoding gives rise to protein. these regulatory signals can be activators or they could be silencers like dnamethalation. normally for the sperm and the egg, these transcription factors, regulatory factors activated by environmental
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experiences are wiped clean and the infant starts with a clean slate so that normal inheritance is you start off with a clean slate and your own life experiences add and subtract transcription factors in order to activate genes. occasionally, very traumatic experiences of the kind described by isabelle that we'll also discuss will have an effect of a parent on a child, for example, depriving the infant mouse of access to its mother that will cause it alteration in gene expression, shutting off of a gene, a methalation that can be carried on not just for the life of that infant but several generations after that. so this damage in principle can be carried on for a number of generations. so you can have epigenetic traits car fred one generation to another. so simply to summarize, what is
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really amazing is that these social depravations in childhood can lead to dna changes that increase stress, alter the development of brain, have unhealthy stress responses and give rise to cognitive health consequences, social consequences. the this discusses the wonderful topic of seeing how environment can affect the brain. we have a terrific group of people. we have charles nelson who pioneer the study of remaining orphanages and he will describe cognitive and brain alterationings as a result of living in an orphanage. >> rose: let me begin with charles nelson and tell us how early experiences shape the brain. >> as we've already talked about the basic architecture of the brain is laid down before birth by the genes the baby inherits from the mother and father. this architecture forms a blueprint for brain development
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that's fundamentally altered by experience. the issue for us is experiences are good. you can facilitate healthy brain development, but if they're bad they can facilitate unhealthy brain development. perhaps the worst thing you can do is deprive the brain of experiences it needs, particularly experiences that need to occur during what we call critical periods. these are sensitive periods in brain development where the brain is susceptible to input. without getting the experiences brain development is undermine. perhaps the most egregious examples are children experiencing profound neglect early in life and of those children who wind up growing up in institutions. our colleagues and i have demonstrated children abandoned at birth and placed in institution show dramatic changes in brain and behavior yore development. kids who grow up in institutions have an i.q. of around 66 which
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is far far below normal whereas children who have never grown up in an institution have an i.q. of 100. we've also shown having the risk of a mental health problem is dramatically increased for kids growing up in institutions. we show age 12, children with a history of institutional care more than 40% of them have a major psychiatric disorder, 10% for those who aren't in an institution. besides i.q. and psychiatric illness, we show changes in memory and executive functions. when we look at the brain, we've also figured out some of the changes that occur in the brain can explain some of the changes we see in behavior, so we're looking at a view of the brain from the side the left hemisphere and the bundle of blue you see referred to as the singulum connects portions of the temporal lobe to regions of the frontal lobe and connecting areas like memory and emotion in the temporal lobe, and the frontal lobe is involved in
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regulating emotion and cognitive states generally. we find the integrity of the bundle of fibers is dramatically reduced in kids with a history of institutional care. these fibers transmit information less efficiently and less constructively and that can explain some of the high rate we see in mental health problems. the last thing i want to show here is that we know that early in life children with a history of institutional care show fundamental changes in their ability to relate to other people, particular caregivers. they had disturbances in attachment. so one has posited if you fundamental alter the relationship children have with caregivers early on, how does that play out when they're older. i have a video of two 8-year-old boys. the one in white spent his whole life in an institution and the one in stripes is just from the neighborhood, never been in an institution. we asked them to interact with
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one another. the boy in white is aggressive, doesn't know how to interact. at one point as you will see in just a moment, he basically attacks the other boy. even if you don't speak are you mainian, you can sew how atypical this boy's language is. this goes on for quite a while. we see not only do children with a history of institutional care not know how to interact, but the other children are essentially turned off by this and want nothing to do with this child and it's very disturbing to see. >> rose: can you do anything about that, though? >> yes, so what we'll talk about in just a moment is what happens when we talk these children out of institution and put them into foster care into a good family. >> rose: we'll talk about how economic factor impact development. >> the short answer, charlie, is they impact development quite a bit. background for your viewers, poverty is defined based on family income. the federal government defines the poverty line each year.
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right now the poverty line for a family of four is around $25,000, the same whether the family is living in new york city or south dakota, for example, even though the cost of living is quite different in those places. now, despite the fact that it's quite challenging to imagine rearing a family of four on $25,000, poverty is nonetheless prevalent, currently affecting one in five children across the u.s. now, of course, family circumstances comprise more than family income. socioeconomic status, we think about income bulls things like educational aat the same time and occupational status. when we think at socioeconomic status in this way, we know it's associated with a broad range of outcomes that are very important for children ranging from i.q. to high school graduation. as neuroscientists, we know those broad outcomes though important don't tell us much about the brain. taking a neuroscience lens, we know different brain structures
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and circuits support different cognitive skills. by using neuroscience framework we can ask which particular cognitive skills are most associated with family socioeconomic circumstances. that's what we did in a series of studies ten years ago when we recruited several socioeconomic diverse cohorts of families with children from kindergarteners through adolescence and asked how do socioeconomic factors predict children's cognitive development? we found a number of different things. first, we found, in general, children from socioeconomically advantaged homes outperform children from more disadvantaged homes in terms of their memory performance. and more recently we and other investigators have been investigating the way that the very structure of the brain varies as a function of family socioeconomic background. so we've known since the 1950s
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that a structure in the brain known as the hippocampus located deep inside our brains is critical for memory development. we've known for quite some time that in many cases a larger hippocampus is associated with better memory skill. we reason perhaps children with more advantaged environments would have a larger hippocampus. that's what we found. you can see here the hippocampus h is shown in green and children from homes with greater family incomes tended to have a larger hippocampus size than children from more economically disadvantaged homes. >> i find it absolutely amazing to think poverty would affect the size of the hippocampus and, therefore, kids' cognitive and memory capabilities, an amazing find. >> rose: i find it amazing that it shows you how so early in life you can be at a disadvantage the rest of your life. >> exactly. really, we were comparing this before the physical damage to the brain. what you're seeing here is the result of these early
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depravations, enormous consequences to brain function. this is a brilliant example of that. >> well, thank you, eric. this finding has now been replicated in four independent labs. what's really important, though, is to try to get at sort of the mechanism, right, try to understand what is it about growing up in poverty that may lead to these differences so we can design proprietary interventions. work by joan and her colleagues at washington university in st. louis suggested the key to the link may be differences in family stress. we know families facing economic disadvantages face a host of stressors every day and we know quite some time stress has profound and cascading effects on the development,0ñ of the hippocampus. stress may be the link that may be targeted through interventions. we know the developing brain is plastic so a number of labs are investigating whether the links can be prevented or reversed
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through intervention. our initial study of children's behavior found other striking differences along socioeconomic lines. we found dramatic differences in chimps language skills and executive functioning or their ability to self-regulate or inhibit inappropriate responses. now, again, more recently, we've had the opportunity to explore how these differences in socioeconomic background relate to the very structure of children's brains. so here, you can see a study that we recently published showing higher family income was associated with greater brain surface area of the size of the folds on the surface of the brain which we know is responsible for most to have the cognitive heavy lifting. >> rose: folds in the brain. the cerebral cortex or the layer of cells on the outside of the brain. here in this figure, every area where you see represent in color represents an area where there is a significant association between family income and the size of the folds of children's
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brains. furthermore, the areas in yellow are the areas where we see this relationship most strongly. so the picture on the left shows a picture of the side of the brain, the areas in yellow are parts of the frontal and temporal cortex that are responsible for language development. the picture on the right is a picture straight down the middle of the brain and the areas in yellow are part of the pre-frontal cortex that supports the idea of self-regulation and inhibiting inappropriate impulses. a couple of things to note about this finding. first of all, the lammings wasn't lynnia and by that i mean the strongest links between family income and children's brain size occur among the most disadvantaged families. that means dollar for dollar any differences in family income were associated with proportionately greater differences in brain structure among the poorest families. secondly, and this point is really critical, there were
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dramatic what we call individual differences. so an analogy i like to use is between gender and height. we all know that in childhood, on average, boys tend to be taller than girls. of course, in any elementary school classroom across america we'll find some girls who are tall than some boys. so the analogy is similar here. on average, across the sample, children from higher income homes had larger brain surface areas than children from more disadvantaged homes but there is quite a bit of variability with many children from disadvantaged homes having larger brain areas and many children from advantaged homes having smaller brain surface areas. so in no way could i know a child's family income alone and predict that child's brain size with any accuracy. the point i'd like to make is there are multiple mechanisms at play here. our lab is particularly interested in trying to understand how the language
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exposure, the quality and quantity of words as well as differences in family stress may be accounting for these links. again, we know that the developing brain is remarkably plastic and we have reason to believe that appropriate interventions may be able to reverse or even prevent these effects. along those lines, i'm part of a group of social scientists and neural scientists currently planning and raising funds for the first clinical trial of poverty reduction in which with we'll actually be able to reduce poverty and measure the effect it has on the developing brain and mind. >> rose: do we know why it has an impact on some lower-income families and not on others? >> so that's part of what we're interested in trying to understand, the science of resilience. i think likely a large part of that has to do with differences in parenting. we know certainly parenting style can buffer many adversities, so that's one of the questions we're actively pursuing. >> one of the situations may be, and you emphasized this, is
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poverty carries with it a great deal of stress, and some people may be able to handle it with more success than others and the stress itself is very powerful. >> rose: how about social factors? >> over the last 30 years, child development scientists like myself followed children from birth, childhood, into adulthood in order to identify the early experiences that place them at risk. we've identified two kinds of experiences in the first five years of life. those children who have been mall treated, abused by parents in the first five years of life, are at risk. that is, they have been rejected by parents, harshly treated. boys who have experienced maltreatment by parents are likely to become juvenile delinquents, on average, and to become arrested for violent crimes, and young adulthood girls are likely to develop an adolescent pattern of deviant behavior that might also include
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unwanted pregnancies. the second is introduced by pierce, children who are bullied, socially rejected by peers in kindergarten and first and second grade classrooms are at risk for problems in adulthood including suicidology, violent reactions. what is it about the experience bs that has age pact on children psychologically? how is it these experiences can lead someone to become violent? we brought children into the laboratory, children who have been abused, bullied, well adjusted, all different kinds of children and expose them to different kinds of social experiences -- threats, provocations, cheating in games -- or virtually by having them watch on video television shots and have them imagine being provoked, being threatened. we've identified a pattern of
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response we call a hyperdefensive processing response that children who have been abused experience, and this pattern is in some way similar to posttraumatic stress symptoms and consist of several components. the first is a pattern of hypervigilance to threat cues so these children become very wary and quick to respond to any kind of background threat and provocation. the second component is a bias where they attribute intent, see threat even when it doesn't objectively exist, but they become very hypervigilant response. there's the psychophysiological component which is the third part where their heart races in response to ambiguous threats. a fourth part is a testosterone release which readies them for physical violence and physical reactivity. and the final component is a pattern of anger, anxiety and
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hyperretaliatory aggression. now, not all children who experience these early adverse events grow up to have these problem outcomes. we all know about resilience and different kinds of outcomes. one of the factors that determines which children will grow up to have these problems and which won't is genes. turns out there is a gene that encodes protein that helps in self-regulation. the gene is the monoamine oxidase gene, a children with that gene have a tendency to grow up violent due to the abuse. >> rose: you were connected to your own experiences in your work. >> that's right. it's important for us to define what we're talking about. bullying is not simply conflict between kids. it's not simply teasing or
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pushing and shoving on the playground. it is as kennedy scribed an abusive relationship between kids. there is some debate as to the precise definition of bullying but the centers for disease control and prevention released a uniform definition in 2014 that says broadly that bullying is repeatedda aggressive behavior in school-aged youth. it can be differences in physical size, strength, pop layer, access to information. that behavior is repeated or has a potential to be repeated over time. my story illustrates each of these components, even though it's far from unique. when i was a middle school student, i was perhaps a little bit geeky, perhaps a little nerdy. i probably still am to this day. but as an adolescent, when peer acceptance is perhaps a key driver of behavior, being in any way different can actually leave one very vulnerable.
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in seventh grade i also transferred to a new school. at the time, if you had asked me what i wanted to be when i grew up, i wanted to be a journalist. >> rose: yeah. but unfortunately my new school didn't have a newspaper, so i had enlisted the help of a girl who had quickly befriended me on the first day of school as well as my english teacher to start a newspaper. once up and running, any teacher made me the editor of the newspaper over my friend and that didn't go over well. my friend subsequently kicked me out of her lunch table, which, in my particular school, where there were limits on the number of kids who could sit at a particularly lunch table meant that i was so to speak homeless and didn't have a place to sit at lunch. this led to a campaign of bullying by this particular girl as well as others who quickly joined in, seeing this was the cool thing to do, to pick on me. i experience everything from nasty rumors being spread about me to being called derogatory
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names to actually being spat upon from school bus windows. i was very lucky. we're hearing today about how such trauma can really affect children's brains. i won't overshadow. i definitely am still affected by my experience. i will tell you right now, i still can't go into a cafeteria and sit by myself for fear others are laughing at me or judging me, but i look at how pervasive the issue of bullying is in the world, in this country, and know that we have to do something about it. the u.s. department of education actually just released the newest statistics about bullying, which showed that, in the 2014-2015 year, about 21% of kids reported being bullied. that's quite a significant number of kids. when i look back at my experience, i no longer blame the kids who actually bullied
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me. we know from the research that kids bully for a number of reasons. but often, they're responding to trauma in their own lives, and they're also responding to the climates in which they are being encouraged to actually bully as a way to gain popularity or status. i look back and realize that the teachers and the administrators in my school had absolutely no idea what to do, how to intervene, how to prevent future incidents of violence and bullying, which is why i really have dedicated my career to trying to figure out how do we equip schools to create safer and more supportive environments? i was lucky enough to meet then assistant deputy secretary of education kevinjennings whose vision i shared in creating safe environments and went to d.c. to lead the initiative on bullying
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prevention where it was involved in spearheading stop which remains a best resource for parents and educators around bullying. i helped coordinated house conference on bullying as well as other summits. i continue this as director of research of child trends which is a nonprofit dedicated to improving outcomes of youth. >> rose: my understanding is melania trump expressed interest in bullying as her own concern as first lady. >> yes, that's right. she said cyberbullying is something she really wants to take on. we know that cyberbullying is very correlated with more traditional forms and, so, continuing on the work of making sure that we have safe and supported school environments is going to continue to be a very important issue carrying on through the next administration. >> rose: we see all this and the impact of social bullying and economic circumstances. what actually is happening?
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what's the mechanics going on? >> right. we see the effects of adversity including poverty on behavior and brain structure which raises the obvious question of how this occurs. i think as eric alluded to earlier there is a fascinating possibility and that is these forms of social adversity might actually be affecting the activity of genes in the brain. eric referred to early on as to how epigenetic marks control the opening and closing of cromatin which is the process that regulates gene expression. in demethlation is an epigenetic mark that associates with silencing. we can think of demethlation as operating more as a dimmer switch. as methlation accumulates in the regulatory promoter of the gene the gene becomes increasingly less active. now, over the course of development, the genome requires
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epigenetic marks and they differ from one cell to another. for example, the epiyes mect marks against the joe no the gee different in your liver than brain and takes on different functions. even within the same type of cells, these epiyes neglect marks can differ from one person to another and gives us probably the best example of that is we could look even at identical twins who share exactly the same dna but who can come to differ quite extensively, and what we know is that as the twins age, they have different experiences, they produce differences in the epigenetic marks. that's really the key point is the environment can actually produce subtle changes in these
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epigenetic marks. we first started studying this by looking at the relationship between the quality of maternal care in the rat and a number of different outcomes including the activity of genes, and what we found is if you look at the offspring of what we refer to as nurturing mother rat who lick their pups frequently, you see decrease levels of demethylation on the glue co-recorder receptor chain which associates with increased gluteo corto code receptors in brain regions that relate to stress so the reactors in these mothers have less stress. this is how this can be transmitted from one generation to the next. if we look at the female offspring of nurturing mothers, they show decreased methlation of the estrogen receptor chain and increased activity of the
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estrogen receptor chain in brain regions that regulate maternal behavior. so the female offspring of nurturing mothers lick their pups more frequently than do the female offspring of nonnurturing mothers. we know in this particular case and this takes us to a point kim raised is that the social conditions here are really mediated by the superb action between the parent and offspring. if for example we chronically stress a nurturing mother during her pregnancy, once she gives birth, she shows a lower level of licking her pups, in fact a level no different from a nonlicking mother. the offspring -- it's the behavior of the parent actually
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transmitting the effect of the social condition on to the offspring which is directly similar to what kim was talking about with respect to poverty. now we started to look at this in the human situation because obviously this is an important question that we can look in postmortem human brains and when we do we find individuals who were victims of child abuse in early life show increase methlation of the glycocorticoid receptor gene and decrease glyco corticoid stress history in brain regions like the hippocampus that regular nate the stress experiences. kids are more reactive to threat and stressors who experienced more severe environments. this is different from the example eric mentioned early on about isabelle mansui's work.
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infant rats deprived of maternal care showed marks directly passed on to their offspring we felt don't know if this involves a level at the gene line but it's a fascinating possibility. so we think that this process of epigenetic regulation through environmental influences is critical for two reasons. the first is the marks including demethlation in the human brain associate for the risks of mental disorders and profiles of later brain injury. the second point that underscores what kim was talking about earlier is the forms of social adversity that can potentially modify the epiyes effect marks and increase the risk for mental disorders are far more prevalent than we think. in the united states for example 20 to 40% of the population has experience add a level of social
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adversity that is sufficient to alter epigenetic marks and change the risk for mental disorders in later life. >> rose: so what does this race in terms of questions for the implication for research in the future? >> well, i think it speaks to the issue that both chuck and ken were talking about is what point in time in development are we seeing this? eric underscored you're seeing the effects of poverty in early life. there are recent epigenetic studies that show that we can see this at the time of birth, so the mother's socioeconomic state during her pregnancy can actually be associated with epigenetic modifications at birth including epigenetic modifications of genes involved in brain development. no question that this process occurs post-natally and is reversible but allows us to understand these processes are occurring and social forces are
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embedded very early on at life. >> one of the important issues to raise here is given how early these things start we kind of misuse the expression pay now or pay more later and if we don't do something early in life the cost later on can snowball in many respects. if i can just give within example of that, we started to look at a region of the chromosome on the tip in a region that's basically like a shoelace covering that protects the chromosome from all cell divisions. we know as we get older that region gets shorter. children who grew up in profound neglect show a dramatically increased rate of erosion and, so, you see the teelamir and the calf and you see how you start to chip away at that. the chipping away of that region is a perfect part of normal development. it's just the question as you will see in the next slide is how quickly do you do that
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erosion. so you will see that children in the institution over the first 16 years of life show a dramatic reduction and that seems to be associated with health outcomes. parents who report kids with greatth he the issues have the shortest tealo meres as well. if children are reproved from deprived environments by age two or so, we can reverse many of these things. >> rose: two. two. i'd like to com come back to the question in a moment that have to do with critical periods to show i.q. and memory and the ability to form relationships. this doesn't mean the door shuts closed at two. it simply means the longer you wait to take the child out of the deprived environment and put them in a good environment the harder it is to get them back on even keel.
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here's one dramatic example. we started to look when our children were 12 at a very serious form of mental health issue which is referred to sometimes as callus and emotional traits, children who are heartless, can torture animals. many people think it has roots in altered attachment relationships earlier in life, but more importantly children high in these emotional traits when little are more inclined to psychopathology. like being a psychopath when they're older. what we see in red is how high the rate of callus and emotional traits are in both boys and girls and kids in the institution, it plum et cetera when you put the kids into a good family. this is an example of reversibility. if you leave them in the profoundly deprived environments, there is a very high rate of kids exhibiting callous and emotional traits. you put them into good families, you almost get rid of them completely. >> rose: is there an age at
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which the window is closed that's too late? >> we're not sewer what the answer is. we've shown plus or minus two years is a critical point in development. does it matter three or four or five? i think my answer to that question is you should still expect some recovery. it will just be hard tore get those kids to get back on an even keel the longer you wait. there's probably no point that's too late, but just imagine trying to open a really heavy door that's closed most of the way, just the effort involved if opening it up again. >> that work focusons extreme adversity in the form of being reared in an orphanage -- >> rose: in romania. yes, which that level of adversity is quite rare in the u.s. so we have reason to hypothesize, at least, the window may persist a little longer for situations of less extreme adversity. there is also quite a bit of
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work suggesting plain plasticity through adolescents, at least, in a number. >> institutionalization of that kind is not that rare. this is what charles found in other contexts as well, so this is not unique to rumania. >> there is 100 million orphans around the world, 60 million children in china whose parents left them while they migrate for work, 8 million in institution. think of this as a continuum of care. we're talking about an excrement environment but not too far to this side kim is talking about kids growing up in profound poverty. so we have this continuum. and the question is where do you cross that line before kids start suffering? >> rose: kimberly, we talked about the socioeconomic differences in children that experienced stress, stimulating experiences, exposure to environmental tocks bs and these differences in terms have an
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effect on the brain. what's the right level to intervene? >> that's a great question, charlie. so we think of the socioeconomic differences as leading to these differences in experiences which you've described which have effects on brain and behavior. so what is the right level at which to intervene? do we choose to intervene at threfl of behavior through school interventions? clearly high quality earl lill childhood education is of paramount importance, but if we are waiting till children start school, we're likely waiting too late because we know there are dramatic differences by the team children that's right kindergarten. what if we aim at experiences that teach parents about the importance of talking and reading with their children or interventions that aim to reduce harsh parenting for example. there are a number of interventions focused on parenting many of which are quite effective but also which
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face challenges. they tend to be expensive and difficult to scale up and often face challenges in terms of the effect of the intervention dwindling once the intervention is over. so what if we think about taking a step back further and talk about changing policies that would actually directly reduce the rates of poverty in the u.s. or elsewhere? so with that kind of thinking, i have been very excited to be a team of social and neural scientists planning and raising funds for the first randomized clinical trial of poverty reduction. while the goal is fairly ambitious, the premise is actually pretty straightforward. so our plan is to recruit a thousand low-income mothers nationally at the time they give birth, one-half to receiving a large income supplement and the other half a low supplement. the others will receive the
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monthly cash supplement for the first three years of the children's lives when we know the brain is malleable to experiences. we'll be able to study what is the causal impact on reducing poverty on children's brains and minds and i believe the results of the study may hold important implications for social policies that could influence and affect millions of disadvantaged children. >> rose: with brain imaging rising to the level it's at now, do we see changes in the brain? can we localize this so that we can see? >> one of the wonderful things, and this is your finding, is that the hippocampus is reduced. many of these -- >> rose: the size? the size of the hippocampus is reduced. many of the findings described here are based on various kinds of imaging. >> rose: so you can see the directed connection. >> yes. really one of the amazing things is you take the taxi drivers of london, unlike new york taxi drivers, they really have to know their way around the city. the hippocampus is very important for spatial memory.
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>> rose: they have a large hippocampus? >> the longer they drive, the larger the hippocampus becomes, and when they quit the hippocampus shrinks. >> rose: right. never quit. ( laughter ) >> if i may, though, the work in the poverty field is entirely correlational, meaning we can show linkages or correlations between economic disadvantage and these differences in the brain but we can't see forture what's causing what yet. so this randomized trial we're planning will finally enable us to do that by manipulating poverty and reducing poverty and seeing if we can reduce and prevent these effects. >> rose: what's fast track? direct prevention for kids at high risk for violence.
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i'm in favor of rescuing children from poverty and keeping them from institutions but some children will slip through. with fast track we work with children beginning age 5 to teach them skills to cope more effectively and respond more competently when provoked and threatened. in fast track we use a metaphor of a stoplight as way to help children learn the processes. we paint red, yellow and green circles on playgrounds and desks and teach 5-year-old rambunctious cinder dparders in that when they experience a problem such as someone bullying them or threaten them, they should go to the red light, calm down, slow down, count to ten, take a deep breath and do whatever it is to slow them down. if that's all we can teach them in the kindergarten year, we have been a success. the next step is to teach them to go to the yellow light, the
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thinking light, to where you think about new solutions and perspectives. was that person really trying to be mean to me? might i respond? if i do, what is the teacher going to do next? we try to get them into a thinking, participatory, problem-solving mode. when they come up to the best response, they go to the green light to try it out and go ahead. if it doesn't work, go back to the red light and start over. we use these metaphors to teach children over a period of five years. we also use the same metaphor to teach parents parenting skills to get them to slow down to intervene both with the parents and the children. with the parents we want them to use the stoplight so they might not abuse children or engage in behaviors they regret later on. with fast track we conduct a randomized controlled trial to rigorously evaluate whether this kind of intervention has an
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impact at last. so we took a thousand children from many cities in the u.s. and developed and intervened with them with the fast track program. we found several kinds of impacts. first, after five years, when the children are now ten years of age instead of five, those children who have been randomly assigned to receive the fast track intervention show less defensive processing, less of that pattern of hyperreactivity and hyper vigilance i described earlier. that's very encouraging. the second finding is we followed them up all the way into adulthood. at age 25, we bring them back into the laboratory and expose them again to a provocation and a threat, and we measure their testosterone release, and those children, who 20 years before had experienced this fast track intervention, those children showed less testosterone release which shows physiologically and hormonally we've calmed them
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down and regulated them. finally, we find the children who experienced the fast track intervention show, at age 25 and 26, show less psychiatric disorder, less antisocial personality, less anxiety, less violent arrests, less time in prison, less costs to society in the form of mental health services and incarceration. so we believe it's cost beneficial to intervene directly beginning at a young age. >> rose: eric, when i'm listening and thinking about the commitment we need in this nation to research and development, how important studies that are taking place at every major university to help us understand why the way we are and how we can change, you know, with early kinds of intervention that only come about because of smart research, that great research universities and facilities around the world. having said that, my impression, correct me if i'm wrong, is that changing bullying tactics is --
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intervention is difficult. >> oh, it's very difficult. the latest meta-analyses have sewn very minimal effects, especially in the united states. european countries have seen larger effect sizes, but in the u.s., they have been moderate at best. we know a lot of the times this is because bullying interventions tipped to focus on simply telling kids, don't bully, which, when we know bullying is such a key component in many school climates of popularity or peer acceptance, it's really hard to change a teen's desire to bully simply by telling them not to do something. what is becoming more and more to be known to be effective is changing the school climate. that's not going to look the same at every single school. it's about helping schools identify their needs, identify the interventions that are going to work for them and helping them implement them. that's one of the reasons child
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trend now is involved with a randomized control trial of 30 middle and high schoolings in the district of columbia to implement a school climate framework to help see if by helping give that structure technical assistance we can reduce bullying as well as a host of other violent and deviant behaviors. >> rose: bear with me, but give a sense of what i'm referring to in the terms of the future, tell me the question you're most seeking an answer to. >> how can reducing poverty change children's brain and mind development for the better. >> rose: continuation of the exploration and the question you have been asking all along. >> that's right. i'd like to figure out how to reverse the bad effects these experiences have early in life, open up the critical periods, develop new interventions and see if we can get the brain back on an even keel. i think that's very exciting because we now know something about the biology and the
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genetic to engineer ways to open up brain plasticity. >> i'd like to go to the question you raised earlier on is how is it that some kids grow up in impoverished, dysfunctional families and are productive and good, resilient? so what is the origin of resistance? what makes these people so resistant to these forces that otherwise do so much damage? >> rose: what duping we might find? >> that's interesting. actually, th the issue in many s is it begins in the genes. >> rose: resilience begins in the genes. >> you can actually study genes that confer resilience to adversity. when you look at the kids even raised in the same family, why it is that one emerges, and the best bet is there's a mix of
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genes that render this individual resilient. >> i ruled like to learn how to have population impact, how to take the science and knowledge and even these interveptions and not intervene or have an impact on merely a small number but move the needle at scale for full populations so that we can really transform our populations. >> and i'm going to tag along on that note to say i really am interested in how education policy and policy in general can actually change the environment in schools and what we can do to help encourage schools to actually take on these issues. >> i think it's so important for parents to realize how important their early intersection with the kids is. it's obvious to many parents but not to all. >> i wouldn't want parents to come away with the thought that the only ingredient for resilience is genetic makeup. parenting can serve as a tremendous buffer for or
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against -- >> i completely agree. human studies have shown the way poverty affects the brain through parenting but even in the same family you see those examples, and even in good families, you see kids who are wayward and dysfunctional families, quite the ope the opp. >> rose: my takeaway, i'm stunned by how we studied the brain more, how things ewe hadn't necessarily thought about as pivotal, deciding factors with profound impact. >> absolutely. >> rose: are. this whole program is astonishing in a way when you consider how social factors can have dramatic effects on the structure of the brain. i think it's something we would not have thought about 40 or 50 years ago. >> rose: what are we going to think about next time? >> next time we'll think about biology and the law. to what degree is witness testimony reliable? is memory reliable enough so we can really make decisions on
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this? a fascinating topic. >> rose: all lawyers will be tuning in. >> exactly. >> rose: i think we've learned a lot. there is not two people alive that don't care about what it is that influences us about becoming who we are. for more about this program and earlier episodes, visit us online at and
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>> and by bloomberg, a provider of multimedia news and information services worldwide. >> you're watchin
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hello and welcome to kqed "newsroom." i'm thuy vu. coming up, california schools face teacher short ans and the new priorities in the trump administration. and san francisco's plan to offer free tuition at city college. and the new cabinet and security challenges. first as part of our continuing coverage of the first 100 days of the new administration, we examine a major legal setback to president trump's executive order banning refugees and visitors from seven predominantly muslim nations or thursday three judges at the ninth circuit court of appeals in san francisco unanimously refused to reinstate the controversial ban after it was blocked by a federal judge last week.


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