MBB Junior Symposium: How the Brain is Shaped by Experience


Friday, February 28, 2020, 3:00pm to 5:00pm


William James Hall B1 (basement auditorium)


Please note: This event is not open to the public.

The MBB junior symposium features talks by and discussions with a variety of scholars on an interdisciplinary theme in mind/brain/behavior. The symposium will include speaker presentations and a lunch/discussion with speakers and MBB faculty. Participation is required of students pursuing the Certificate in MBB (students in honors MBB tracks) and is also open and recommended to students pursuing or considering a secondary field in MBB.


Throughout life, humans encounter changing environments that require them to learn and adapt. The term plasticity refers to the capacity of the brain to change in response to these environmental experiences. This neural plasticity allows humans to adapt to changing circumstances by reconfiguring brain structure and function to accomplish new patterns of thought and behavior. In this symposium, we will examine how the brain is shaped by environmental experiences. The symposium will showcase research on a special type of brain plasticity that occurs early in life during sensitive periods—windows of time when the brain is particularly likely to be altered by certain types of environmental experiences. In addition, speakers will examine how adverse experiences occurring early in life (e.g., exposure to violence) as well as positive experiences occurring in adulthood (e.g., practicing mindfulness) can produce meaningful changes in brain structure and function.


Please reserve your symposium space by Monday, February 24th at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/153gHeE7GQfaOK11KaixuIelnCsy2om-yfFJY-UrvMng/. You’ll also be asked to sign in at the event.


2:45-3 p.m. - Registration (outside William James B1; be sure to sign in!)

3 p.m. - Welcome and Introduction, Kate McLaughlin

3:10 p.m. –
How language exposure influences neurocognitive development in childhood, Rachel Romeo

3:40 p.m. – How Early Experiences Tune the Developing Brain: Children’s Brains Adapt to Their Environmental Context, Maya Rosen

4:10 p.m. – How Meditation Shapes the Brain, Sara Lazar

4:40 p.m. – Panel Discussion, led by Susanna Siegel


How language exposure influences neurocognitive development in childhood, Rachel Romeo (Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard Medical School & MIT) , https://rachelromeo.com -- Language is all around us – Babies begin hearing it even before birth; we use it to interact, communicate, and learn; and you are even using it to read this paragraph! The quantity, quality, and types of language that children are exposed to early in life has a profound influence on their cognitive development throughout childhood and beyond. In this talk, I will discuss both structural and functional neural mechanisms linking language experience to language development, how some children may be disproportionately sensitive to their early language environments, and how experience-driven language circuitry may in turn impact other cognitive systems and academic learning. Together, this work reveals the power of early language experience on the developing brain, and has important implications for early childhood education and development.

How Early Experiences Tune the Developing Brain: Children’s Brains Adapt to Their Environmental Context, Maya Rosen (Postdoctoral Fellow, Psychology), https://mayalrosen.com/ -- Prior experience impacts how children attend and learn and ultimately can have profound downstream consequences for their well-being. Experiencing adversity in childhood puts youths at risk for psychopathology and poor academic outcomes. However, different dimensions of adversity may impact these outcomes through distinct neural systems. In this talk, I will discuss work that demonstrates that while experiences of threat impact brain systems involved in emotional processing, experiences of deprivation affect brain systems involved in language and executive function. Understanding these differential neural mechanisms may inform interventions designed to mitigate adversity-related disparities in psychopathology and academic achievement.

How Meditation Shapes the Brain, Sara Lazar (Assistant Professor of Psychology, Medical School), https://scholar.harvard.edu/sara_lazar/people/sara-lazar-phd -- In this talk I will discuss how practice of mindfulness meditation can literally change the shape and function of the brain, in as little as 2 months. I will also discuss how these changes are related to reductions in stress and clinical symptoms, as well as improvements in life satisfaction.


Kate McLaughlin, Assistant Professor of Psychology (Psychology/FAS)

Susanna Siegel, Edgar Pierce Professor of Philosophy (Philosophy/FAS)