Early experience and its effects on social and cognitive development

Early experiences and their effect on social and cognitive development Developmental plasticity is at the core of this axis that focuses on the importance of early experience for social, emotional and cognitive development.

Early experience and its effects on social and cognitive development
  1. Capacity of new-born babies to face the social information
  2. Visual attention can be considered as a key factor for social cognition
  3. Early experiences have important consequences on short and long term social, emotional and cognitive development

Capacity of new-born babies to face the social information

In particular, an interdisciplinary  project (Prof. A. Streri, devt Psychol) on intermodality has been developed looking at starlings and newborns' abilities to deal with social information. Human newborns preferentially direct their attention towards videos where an adult's lip movements are congruent with the sound produced and memorize only faces of adult strangers if they direct their visual attention towards them. Adult starlings placed in single cages and given the possibility to trigger a picture or sound of a conspecific are extremely motivated, and more motivated by visual than auditory social stimulations.
Electrophysiological studies revealed that the responses of more than half of the auditory neurons of field L (primary auditory area) can be modulated by social visual information. It decreases when starlings are presented pictures of a familiar conspecific but increases when the picture represents an unfamiliar conspecific. The same experiment with starlings raised in groups of naive peers (without adults) reveals no sign of such discrimination of social familiarity.

Visual attention can be considered as a key factor for social cognition

Overall, visual attention can be considered as a key factor for social cognition. The presence of adults during development seems to be a prerequisite for the development of social cognition.

Early experiences have important consequences on short and long term social, emotional and cognitive development

In horses, introducing adults at key moments, such as artificial weaning, a stressful event in the domestic situation, may help reduce stress reactions and prevent the emergence of social and behavioural disorders. Overall early experiences have important consequences on short and long term social, emotional and cognitive development. Thus, intensive postpartum handling of newborn foals induces a negative emotional memory in the short term (10 days) and disrupts the expression of emotions in the long term (2 years), as indicated by a locomotor inhibition of these horses when faced with a stressor, suggesting learned helplessness: the animal has learnt when newborn that struggling is useless. Such results led to the development of a line of research on the impact of routine practices in human neonatal care (coll. team 3). Normal ontogeny with a prolonged and secure bonding with adults is a source of protection against adult adversity: in intensive macaque breeding facilities, wild-born animals express less altered welfare than captive-born animals that have been weaned early.

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