Conference: Human Nature and Early Experience

A pioneering symposium Human Nature and Early Experience: Addressing the “Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness” is coming October 10th through 12th at the University of Notre Dame.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the ways we are rearing our children today are not the ways humans are designed to thrive. The ill effects of these missing ancestral practices are becoming evident as children’s well being in the USA is worse than 50 years ago (Heckman, 2008) and is among the worst in the industrialized world (20th in family and peer relationships and 21st in health and safety; UNICEF, 2007). We have epidemics of ADHD, anxiety and depression among the young, indeed all age groups (USDHHS, 1999). Too many children are arriving at school with poor social skills, poor emotion regulation, and habits that do not promote prosocial behaviors…

Now is the time to reexamine the influence of early experience on child outcomes for two main reasons. First, the emergence of the cognitive, affective and social neurosciences (Cacioppo & Bernsten, 2004; Panksepp, 1998) has provided a greater focus on intrinsic aspects of social functioning. These disciplines have helped identify the types of brain functions that are typically found in mammalian brains, but they have not specified how these functions are normally expressed in humans, or how they are developed and expressed in response to cultural practices

Second, in recent years a host of public, personal and social health problems have been skyrocketing in the USA, and increasingly around the world, for which science does not have consistent or reliable answers… Animal, human psychological, neurobiological and anthropological research provides converging evidence for the importance of early life conditions for optimal brain and body system development. At the same time, epigenomic studies are beginning to better demonstrate the influence of caregiver behavior on offspring.

An impressive group of speakers will present, beginning withJaak Panksepp from Washington State University.  Panksepp is responsible for coining the term ‘affective neuroscience,’ and is renowned for his research in neural mechanisms of emotion.

James Prescott will speak on origins of violent behavior; Alan Schore, UCLA, will also speak, with his integrative neuroscience approach to affect regulation and development.

Also presenting: Michael Meaney from the Douglas Institute specializing in maternal care, stress, and gene expression and Wenda Trevathan of NMSU whose concentrations include evolutionary and biocultural factors underlying human reproduction, specifically childbirth and maternal behavior.

The full schedule is available for viewing accompanied by a detailed list of speakers and their biographies.

Darcia Narvaez, associate professor of psychology at Notre Dame, is the lead organizer for the conference.  Narvaez was previously featured in the post Triune Ethics: On Neurobiology and Multiple Moralities.  You can find out more about her views on the issues at the core of the conference over at her blog Moral Landspaces in the post, written with Jaak Panksepp and Allan Schore, The Decline of Children and the Moral Sense.

Mother and child photo is the featured photo for the Human Nature and Early Experience conference.

Brain image from Child Welfare Information Gateway.

Link to the website for the conference Human Nature and Early Experience: Addressing the “Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness”

2 thoughts on “Conference: Human Nature and Early Experience

  1. Here’s the abstract for a set of notes I’ve prepared, “Music and the Prevention and Amelioration of ADHD: A Theoretical Perspective”:

    Russell A. Barkley has argued that ADHD is fundamentally a disorientation in time. These notes explore the possibility that music, which requires and supports finely tuned temporal cognition, might play a role in ameliorating ADHD. The discussion ranges across cultural issues (grasshopper vs. ant, lower rate of diagnosis of ADHD among African-Americans), play, distribution of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, neural development, and genes in culture (studies of the distribution of alleles for dopamine receptors). Unfortunately, the literature on ADHD does not allow us to draw strong conclusions. We do not understand what causes ADHD nor do we understand how best to treat the condition. However, in view of the fact that ADHD does involve problems with temporal cognition, and that music does train one’s sense of timing, the use of music therapy as a way of ameliorating ADHD should be investigated. I also advocate conducting epidemiological studies about the relationship between dancing and music in childhood, especially in early childhood, and the incidence of ADHD.

    Go here for a link to a downloadable PDF.

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