ones can become more efficient.
Harvard University’s Center on the
Developing Child says our early
experiences “affect the nature and
quality of the brain’s developing
architecture by determining which
circuits are reinforced and which are
pruned through lack of use.” This is
sometimes called “use it or lose it.”
“The more you use a brain
connection, the more likely it is to
become strong and to last a lifespan,”
says Judy Cameron, a professor
of psychiatry at the University of
Pittsburgh, where she serves as
director of science outreach.
Neural connections are formed
and pruned in a set order, with
the simplest circuits (groups of
connections) coming first and the
more complex circuits coming after.
The process begins with sensory
circuits (such as seeing and hearing)
followed by language skill circuits.
Next are circuits for more complex
functions such as controlling
emotions, social skills, abstract
thinking and problem solving. Our
brain development usually wraps up
when we’re between 25 and 30.
Our genes determine the exact
timing of this development, and
our experiences throughout life
determine which connections are
reinforced and which ones are
pruned, leading to either weak or
strong circuits. The brain is never
a blank slate, the Center on the
Developing Child says. Every new
skill is built on those that came
The building block of brain
architecture is serve and return
interactions (see page 11).
Serve and return exchanges are
often “really easy things to do that
will have a huge impact on the rest
of a child’s life,” says Bryan Kolb, a
University of Lethbridge professor of
neuroscience and Board of Governors
Research Chair in neuroscience.
Reading together, he adds, is one
good form of serve and return. “You
are interacting one-on-one and
talking to them.”
— Jacqueline Louie and Nicole Sherren
Our brain makes
700 new neural