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Invited Commentary
January 29, 2020

The Implications of Early Adversity Even Before Birth

Author Affiliations
  • 1Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience, Department of Pediatrics, Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 2Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts
JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(1):e1920030. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.20030

It has long been known that early experience can have a profound and long-lasting impact on the course of human development. Over the past few decades, however, it has increasingly been demonstrated that exposure to adversity during critical periods of brain development is specifically associated with adverse developmental outcomes, including compromised cognitive, social-emotional, and neural development.1 More recently, it has become clear that various functional domains are differentially associated with different critical periods. For example, language, memory, and executive functions are all influenced differently depending on the timing of the adversity (eg, an impoverished language environment in the first 2 years of life will have a more detrimental effect on language development than for the development of executive functions).2 Not surprisingly, the differential outcomes of adversity also influence brain development differently depending on timing (eg, the hippocampus may be more vulnerable in the early years than the prefrontal cortex).2

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